Li Lianlin, a 28-year-old businessman from Chongqing Municipality, says "I haven't traveled by train for years because it used to be slow and dirty with an unpleasant smell in the carriage."
"The most important change is that now you feel at home on the train," he adds.
But, everything was different when he traveled from Chongqing to Beijing recently. There were shining windows, a comfortable sleeper with bed lamp over head, electronic screen installed on each side of every carriage and announcements giving information such as the weather forecast and the time of arrival at the next station, which most passengers are interested in.
Chinese trains for a long time were described as "snails" as they used to run at speeds of 50 to 80 km per hour. In addition passengers often complained about the poor service.
The market has changed Chinese railways. With the rapid growth of highway and aviation industries, the Chinese railway system underwent a crisis in recent years.
Train speeds were increased in 1997. Today the fastest speed is 140 km per hour, 40 percent faster than that in early 1990s.
Speed brings benefits to passengers and there are many facilities and services provided for passengers on modern trains.
Li found a small bag to hold a mobile phone in the train toilet. He was able to rent a small laser VCD player for entertainment, at a cost only 10 yuan (about US$ 1.2) per hour.
"It can make the long journey more interesting, said a train staff member, adding, "I hope you have a pleasant memory of traveling by train." Li was indeed impressed by his recent experience.
A slogan on the train hits the mark by saying: "We can't shorten the distance, but we can save time for you."
Chinese Railways (CR) has returned to profit after five years of losses. This is one year ahead of a target imposed by the Ministry of Railways. The turnround has been achieved through major changes in the way the railway is managed and operated.
The late 1990s marked the start of major rail reform in China in line with the government's decision to switch from a centrally planned to a market economy. The need for rail reform was clear if rail was to survive and prosper in the new and rapidly changing economic environment. The swift development of air, road, and water transport led to the start of fierce competition with rail for the first time since the formation of the People's Republic in 1949. In 1994, the railway plunged into loss where it remained for the next five years.
More services were accelerated on October 1 1998 and the number of passenger trains being operated was increased by 14.6%. This alone required an investment of Yuan 6 billion ($US 725 million). As a result, 252 faster locomotives and 957 faster passenger coaches were put into service, and 27,000 existing coaches upgraded. Tracks were relaid at 1608 locations and repaired at another 8662 sites on several main lines. About 300 bridges on the three trunk lines were strengthened, 456 level crossings were replaced by bridges, and 1450km of lines passed for 140km/h operation were fenced.
( People's Daily December 12, 2001 )