China is in the grip of the world's biggest travel rush as it kicked off its 40-day Spring Festival and Lunar New Year holiday season during which 2.8 billion trips are expected to be made.
Ahead of the Lunar New Year on February 19, the travel spree, known as "Chunyun" in Chinese, is considered the world's largest human migration, with hundreds of millions of Chinese people travelling home to reunite with family and then returning back to work. This year's number of trips would be 3.4 per cent higher than that of last year, official media here reported. China's rail system, which would be stretched to its limits during this season every year, is expected to handle 300 million trips during the travel rush, up 10 per cent from last year.
It represents the highest growth of all forms of passenger transportation, the National Development and Reform Commission said. This year's growth is expected to be better managed, with the official ticket purchasing website, opening "Chunyun" ticket sales 60 days ahead of the festival, compared with 20 day in advance in previous years.
In the past, ticket booths in large cities were overwhelmed during the Spring Festival period, with people waiting hours, in some cases days, to make a purchase. The Chinese government has declared an official holiday from February 18 to 24. Song Jianguo, the spokesman for Beijing Railway station, said the peak period is expected between February 13 and 18, with a record of 230,000 passengers to use the station daily.
He said during the travel rush, they will handle 204 train arrivals and departures a day, meaning a bullet train arrives every 4 minutes and a regular train every five minutes, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
However, not all cities have experienced explosive growth during the country's biggest holiday season. In recent years, the daily "Chunyun" passenger volume in Shanghai has been gradually shrinking, said Zhu Wenzhong, head of Shanghai Railway Station. This year is no exception, with the station expecting an even smaller crowd than that recorded during the week-long National Day holiday in October, he said.
The estimated 47.5 million passengers expected to travel by airplane, up 8 per cent year on year, will see cheaper tickets than normal, as airlines prepare to remove the fuel surcharge on Thursday.