Purchasing a train ticket via an app can make the process go much more smoothly. [Photo/JIN PENG/CHINA DAILY]
More than 70 percent of tickets are now purchased in advance
It"s not only trains in China that have gotten faster over the past five years. Passengers have also become more nimble in securing tickets thanks to online booking services.
More than 70 percent of rail tickets are now bought online, either through the official 12306.cn website or via mobile app, according to China Railway Corp, the network operator.
It"s website has 300 million registered users, but its app appears to have made an even greater impact, accounting for more than 70 percent of all online sales, the data show.
China"s online booking system is the world"s largest in terms of trade volume, the company said.
The changes in rail transportation brought by the digital age stand in stark contrast to five years ago, when long lines were a common sight at train station ticket windows, especially around national holidays.
The 12306.cn booking website quickly began to reduce the crowds when it was launched in early 2012. At the peak of the Spring Festival travel rush that year, the site sold 1.19 million tickets in a single day.
This year, the most tickets sold in a day was 9.33 million, again during the Spring Festival rush.
Zhang Meng recalls his days trying to catch a train home to Shandong province while he was a student in Beijing in the early 2000s.
"My roommates and I used to go to the station after dinner and spend the whole night waiting to buy a ticket home for the winter vacation," he said. "The most depressing thing was when you finally made it to the window and the tickets were sold out. It was a real headache back then."
He added that he no longer worries about traveling on the railways. Nowadays, "it"s all just about touching my finger on a smartphone to buy a ticket".
The website and app, which allow users to check availability and book up to 30 days before the intended departure date, have noticeably improved the travel experience for passengers.
At train stations, automatic machines also help. They allow people to buy tickets and pick up preordered ones. In some cases, passengers need only show their ID cards to board.
Some charitable organizations are even teaching migrant workers and seniors to use the online booking technology, which can make their lives easier.
According to CRC, an average 5.32 million tickets were sold online every day last year.
Li Jing, 45, has worked in railways for 25 years and was the top ticket seller at Taiyuan South Railway Station in Shanxi province. She sold 40,254 train tickets during the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush in 2011(Jan 19 to Feb 27).
She averaged sales of 1,006 tickets a day, among the fastest for a human seller, the railway said. Li is deputy director of the ticket center and in charge of the inquiry and assistance desk at Taiyuan South station.
"The ticket-selling hall was always filled with people. Passengers could line up in front of the ticket window and wait for as long as 15 hours to get a ticket home," she recalled of the ticket rush during past Spring Festivals.
"More people buy tickets online now, and the crazy lineups are rarely seen," Li said.