The government's promise of a better system by 2012 appears to be a distant hope for many Chinese who want railway tickets home for the annual Spring Festival.
Starting last Friday, the first day to book tickets for the travel rush expected to last from January 11 to February 28, long queues appeared at ticket booths in almost every major railway hub.
In Shanghai, police and security officers were put on 24-hour guard to maintain order and prevent accidents. They gave each passengers a number and assigned them to different waiting lines.
Beijing authorities set up 410 ticket booths at the main Beijing Railway Station and Beijing West Railway Station to keep lines at no more than 20 people as required by the Railway Ministry.
Deputy General Manager of the Guangzhou Railway Group, Cao Jianguo, asked passengers to "be patient" and "try again" with the booking telephone hot line 9602-0088 in Guangdong.
Nine stations in the southern province have been networked this year with the hot line, which means passengers can pick up or cancel reserved tickets more easily by showing identification.
At Guangzhou railway stations, the Guangzhou Command College of Armed Police was mobilized at seven ticket booths. They were on duty during last year's Spring Festival rush, which was beset by unusual snowstorms.
In Wuhan, college students were first hit by the rush, as many schools' winter break starts from January 10 to 17.
As more than 70 percent of the 1 million resident students there were expected to go home by train, local railway authorities set up ticket agents on campus, opened more ticket booths for students at stations and offered special student trains.
But many still found it difficult to get tickets, especially to Urumqi, Qingdao, Jinan, Harbin, Zhanjiang and Nanning.
The Railway Ministry expects 188 million people to travel during the travel rush, up 8 percent from last year, with daily traffic expected to be 4.7 million people.
Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hangzhou are the "most bustling hubs" before the Spring Festival, which falls on January 26, so authorities have added 319 temporary express passenger trains this year.
Railway Minister Liu Zhijun said last week a "historic change" would be evident in 2012 when intensive investment would extend total track by 110,000 kilometers, including 13,000 kilometers of passenger lines on which trains could run 200-350 kilometers per hour.
(Xinhua News Agency January 4, 2009)