Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

“I started a joke…”

Posted in Customer service, Outside Europe by Chairman Pip on 25 January 2012

When you are overseeing the biggest movement of humanity, it helps to ensure everything works. Alas, the Ministry of Railways doesn’t seem to have gotten that far yet. Chinese New Year is the most important of all Chinese holidays, in which people travel to their homes all over China to be with their families. Of course, you’ll probably know that China is quite a big place (traditionally accepted as the third largest nation on earth), and that it takes a while to travel across it. You may also be aware that China is something of an economic powerhouse, because it can source vast supplies of cheap labour. As a consequence, people go where the work is, and so often times you’ll find tens of millions of migrant workers crowding onto cross country trains from where they work in the industrialised and economically developed coastal regions, to their homes in the rural, underdeveloped interior to get home for what is their one significant holiday each year. News reports annually show the enormous queues of people at railway stations trying to buy a ticket, whether it be for a seat or even standing, for the train journey that could end up taking as much as a day. But this year it has been possibly worse. Because the Ministry of Railways decided it would be a good idea to set up an online booking system. Now, I don’t know how many of you have attempted to book tickets online for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but that is an interminable process of continually refreshing the page in an effort to get to the booking form. I’ve done it once and sworn never again. Imagine that multiplied by a factor of about 100,000, and you shouldn’t be wondering why the China Railways online booking system crashed. Kaput.

I tried on the Internet for a whole day but I never managed to log on
Fan Zhixin, a worker in the finance department of a web company

Fan Zhixin eventually managed to get a ticket by using the phone line. But she was only able to buy a standing ticket, rather than a seat. She works in Beijing, but comes from the city of Ulan Hot in Inner Mongolia, a 20 hour rail journey. Then there is the case of Ma Anjia, a construction worker from Shanxi Province, a 16 hour journey from Beijing:

I don’t know how to use the Internet. I queued up. I went to five or six different places and waited hours at each one before I managed to buy the tickets I needed.
Ma Anjia, Construction Worker

While one doesn’t want to criticise too much, Given how efficient the Chinese are supposed to be, and given that this is an annual thing, and given that China Railways have to move in the region of 200 million people at this time of year, why haven’t the government set in place a procedure that sees the planning for the next New Year celebrations begin as soon as the current festival has ended?

The limitations of the online booking system are apparent, how are some leaders doing their job?!
Unidentified Weibo user

“Glitch in China’s online train ticket system sparks fury”
“China’s New Year: there be dragons, but not enough train tickets”

People queue at the ticket office of Hefei station in Anhui Province - given this is not a one off event, is it not possible to come up with a plan in advance?

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