Spring Festival Rush

Kids in the train station

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Shenyang Evening News
January 22, 2009

The big headline today in many papers was the passage by the State Council of a medical reform plan that will bring health care to the entire country's population by 2011 (see the New York Times for more details).

Other papers focused on cross-straits issues: the son and daughter-in-law of Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's former president, told a Taipei court that they were involved in money-laundering (see Xinhua for the story).

Today's Shenyang Evening News led with the health-care headline, but devoted most of its front page to cute kids waiting to take the train home for the holidays.

The caption:

The Spring Festival Rush, a phenomenon unique to China: students go back home, travelers return to their hometowns, and families reunite.....every year at this time, tens of thousands of children join the Spring Rush army as they experience with their parents the hardships and delight of returning home.

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Time to go home

Underneath the image is a headline that notes that the peak travel time of the Spring Festival Rush has arrived.

The Ministry of Railways began tabulating ridership figures for the Spring Festival Rush in 1954, The Beijing News noted in a retrospective piece that ran in yesterday's paper.

It was in 1981 that the two-character abbreviation 春运 first appeared in the People's Daily. On January 18 of that year, the People's Daily spoke with the Ministry of Railways about crowded passenger trains:

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All Chunyun traffic: from 31 million rides in 1957 to 2.2 billion last year

Recently, this reporter interviewed a comrade at the Ministry of Railways and mentioned a few problems with passenger transport. The Ministry of Railways comrade answered them.

Q: We have received many letters from readers telling of their problems taking trains. Sometimes trains are so over-crowded that it is inconvenient to eat or drink. Please tell us why ridership has increased so much and what you are planning to do about it.
A: The increase in rail ridership is due to many factors. First, the implementation of various economic policies has stimulated rural and urban economies, so more rural passengers are taking the train to markets in nearby cities and towns.

Second, reforms to the economic management system have implemented a combination of planned adjustments and market adjustments, and enterprises are playing a leading role, increasing the number of riders who are engaged in economic activity.

Third, urban and rural incomes have risen somewhat so the number of riders visiting family or engaging in tourism has increased.

There are also a few other reasons. In sum, the increase in train ridership is a new problem for the railroad created by improving economic conditions.

To improve passenger capacity, we will strive to find ways to increase the number of passenger cars, expand train formations, and add additional cars. In restricted passages and bottleneck areas, we'll also reduce the number of freight trains, increase the number of passenger trains, and take other measure.

We have not attached enough importance to passenger traffic in the past, but from now on we'll see an improvement.

The newspaper's feature notes that overcrowding has dropped substantially. In the 1990s, it was common for trains to run at double capacity over the holidays, and even higher overcrowding rates were not unheard of. Today, 20% is the prescribed overbooking rate, although at peak times this can still push 70-80%.

Ticketing remains a problem, but this year, the Ministry of Railways declared that by 2012, those difficulties will be eliminated as well.

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