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Festival rush puts China to harmony test
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Migrant workers enter the Changsha Railway Station in Changcha, capital of central-south China's Hunan Province, Jan. 8, 2009. The Spring Festival travel period, known as Chunyun in Chinese, began to see its passenger peak in Changsha as the college students and migrant workers started to return home.

Special armed police joined normal patrol officers and police dogs sniffed around luggage offices and platforms for prohibited goods.

At first sight, the security at Beijing Railway station, China's busiest transport center before the Lunar New Year which falls on Jan. 26, was roughly the same as last year.

But for many railway staff, this year's 40-day Spring Festival passenger rush is a "real test" of their capability to promote harmony as global financial crisis and the weakening domestic economy have aggravated the winter blues.

The Railway Minister predicted the first passenger peak to come on Jan. 20 to 24. Public grumbles over the hardship of obtaining a ticket, however, have reached a clamor on the Internet following the sudden death of a man in his 60s last Wednesday in a ticket office of the Chengzhan Railway Station, Huangzhou.

While police are investigating the man's identity and cause of death, people in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai compiled on-line ticket purchase guidebooks which invited public praise, but once again put railway authorities in the hot seat.

There were compliments too. The two new temporary toilets set up in the Hangzhou Railway Station, for instance, were described as "the warmth in the severe cold".

Chai Zeliang, deputy chief of the Beijing Bureau of the Railroad Police, says that whatever criticisms passengers might have, one principle for all railway staff was "to exercise restraint".

"The central government proposed the building of a harmonious society. The railways are just one element, but without harmony in the railways and the Spring Festival passenger rush, a harmonious society is out of the question," he says.

Still, by Chai's own admission, complaints, grumbles, even bickering happen almost every day. "The truth is that both passengers and railway staff were stressed as China's railway capacity falls far behind demand."

Almost 188 million people are expected to travel by train in the holiday season, up 8 percent or 13.73 million from last year. The daily rail traffic will grow by 340,000 people to a record average high of 4.7 million.

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