China's railway stations are increasing the heating and adding trains for the peak flow of passengers, as millions of travelers boarded trains in frigid weather to go home for the Spring Festival celebrations.
The volume peak is expected to begin Thursday, a week before the Spring Festival which falls on February 3, according to the prediction of the Ministry of Railways.
Railway authorities have added 630 trains nationwide, hoping to ease the strain during the coming rush period.
In coastal regions where labor-intense industries are concentrated, special trains for migrant workers were organized at cheaper ticket prices to help those homesick workers struggling to purchase tickets.
Rao Zhansheng, who works at a shoe factory in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, said he had not returned home for Spring Festival during the past five years.
This year, however, Rao and his 12-year-old daughter got a ticket, with the help of the local trade union, on the special train which set off Wednesday to his home province of Hubei.
The train was among the 13 migrant worker special lines Fujian operates for this year's Spring Festival, Chinese lunar new year.
"I must regard myself as very lucky, as train tickets are usually expensive and difficult to obtain for migrant workers like me," said Rao.
Railway stations across the nation have also stepped up heating to battle the cold spell that has swept China.
In the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, where the temperature was minus 21 degrees Celsius, railway stations installed more heaters to keep out the chill.
In an improvised waiting room, the temperature was kept around 16 degrees Celsius, and people waited, sitting on stools and wrapped in cotton pads.
"It's good they've even put the tables here, so we can eat hot dishes more easily," said Ma Mingyu, a passenger who was eating a bowl of instant noodles to dispel the cold.
In the Jinan Railway Station in East China's Shandong province, disorderly crowds and extended queues were out of sight, while an increased number of patrolling police, staff, and volunteers were dispersed at the station.
But an official surnamed Zhang said the station's capacity and facilities would be tested in the next two days, when short-term holiday makers are to set off for their journeys.
The annual rush period, before and after the Spring Festival, is a testing moment for the nation's railway system as many Chinese take trains for the most important yearly family reunion at home.
The Ministry of Railways earlier expected a record 230 million travelers to take trains home, an increase of 12.5 percent over last year.
"The Lunar New Year this year falls earlier in the calendar, causing a likely convergence of vacation-going students, migrant workers, and people on family visits," said Wang Zhiguo, Vice-Minister of Railway, predicting hard times during the peak.
Wang said an even greater threat would come from the disruption caused by the continuously icy weather.
The National Meteorological Center Thursday renewed its blue alert for heavy snow, forecasting more snowstorms to pound northwest, central, and part of east China.
During the Spring Festival travel rush in 2008, the freezing weather wreaked havoc by cutting transportation and stranding passengers heading for home.