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Early Rush for Spring Festival Travelers

The annual rush to reunite families for the Spring Festival has reportedly started early in some areas.

Each winter the public transport system works under extreme pressure as millions return home, but the peak travel season was expected to be January 25 to March 5 this year as the festival will be on February 9.

In Shanghai, however, as a large number of migrant workers are heading home early for the holiday, it seems to have started weeks ahead of expectations.

Since January 1, many migrant workers from Sichuan and Anhui provinces began to go back to their hometowns before the peak season's arrival.

"These passengers have contributed to massive traffic on routes to provinces such as Sichuan and Guizhou," said Wang Lushan, a Shanghai Railway Station official.

Wang noted that the busiest train is the No.1352 heading for Chengdu in Sichuan, which is already running at full capacity.

As it doesn't have air conditioning its tickets are relatively cheap, making it more attractive to out-of-town workers, Wang noted.

From the start of this year, the station began selling tickets 10 days ahead of departure to meet increasing demand. Usually, passengers can only buy tickets six days prior to departure.

"These days we are much busier than normal," said an officer surnamed Zheng at the station's ticket office. "The tickets to Chengdu and Fuyang (in Anhui) are the most popular."

While waiting for his train, a migrant laborer named Wang said the heavy snow around the year-end suspended the construction project he was working on.

"Most workers would rather go home as early as they can than stay in Shanghai without any work to do," Wang said, noting tickets are cheaper at this time of year.

In other provinces, transport authorities have reported heavier rail traffic and said they are going all out to ensure safe and smooth public transport for the festival period.

Hubei announced it would muster a force of 5,000 traffic police and 500 plainclothes officers to maintain order and crackdown on traffic-related crime. Shanxi and Gansu provinces also announced an earlier rush for their railways.

The Ministry of Railways predicted that from January 25 to March 5, traveling by rail nationwide will total 145 million journeys, which is almost 5 million more than last year's figure. On average, 3.63 million people are traveling by train every day.

(Shanghai Daily, China.org.cn January 5, 2005)

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