Travel by train in China

China has one of the biggest and busiest rail networks in the world, and trains link almost every town and city. The best Chinese trains are safe, modern and comfortable. This page will help you plan and book train travel in China.

Boarding trains in Beijing...

There are two major stations in Beijing, Beijing Main (metro Bejingzhan) and Beijing West (also called Beijing Xi or Xizhan, metro Junshibowuguan).? Trans-Siberian trains to Moscow & Ulan Bator use Beijing Main, as do trains to Shanghai.? The direct train to Hong Kong and trains to Xian, Guangzhou & Tibet all use Beijing's newer West station.

  • Both Beijing stations are large and busy, and some people find them confusing. So arrive in plenty of time for your train!

  • When you reach the station, you must first go through airport-style security controls into the departure area.

  • For soft sleeper travel, you must then find the appropriate waiting lounge for your train. There are a number of different waiting lounges, and the electronic message boards show which is the right one for each specific train. Tickets are checked on entering the lounge, so you can be sure you are in the right place.

  • Inside the lounge, the electronic message boards show the trains departing from that lounge, for the next 24 hours.? Trains are usually allocated between lounges so there is hour or more between each departure from that lounge.

  • Most trains are shown as 'on time', but the most immediate departures are shown as 'waiting'. Once a train is ready for boarding (normally about 30 minutes before departure) it is shown as 'check in', meaning you can proceed through ticket control to the platform. About 5 minutes before departure the barrier is closed and the train is shown as 'check out'.

How to Buy tickets:

At train Station

You can buy tickets yourself at the station reservation office, remember to take your passport with you. In big cities such as Beijing or Shanghai you should use the special reservations office for foreigners.? Reservations for the best Z-category express trains open 20 days (or in some cases 10 days) before departure, reservations for most other trains open up to 10 days before departure, assuming the train you want starts its journey at that station. If the train you want starts its journey somewhere else and calls at your boarding station already well into its journey, tickets may only be available 2 days before departure.? The rules vary by city..! You can generally only book a train journey at the station where your journey starts, so (for example) the reservations office at Shanghai can sell you a Shanghai-Beijing ticket but not a Beijing-Xian ticket. Berths are best booked at least 2-3 days in advance, apart from peak periods (the Spring Festival, May Day 1st May, National Day 1st October) when they should be booked as soon as reservations open.

In Beijing, you can buy tickets at Beijing Main station (metro Bejingzhan), or Beijing West station (called Beijing Xi or Xizhan, metro Junshibowuguan).? At Beijing Main station, the ticketing office for foreigners is on the north west corner of the 1st floor, accessed via the soft seat waiting room. It is open 05:30-07:30, 08:00-18:30, 19:00-23:00.? At Beijing West station, the foreigners ticketing office is on the 2nd floor, open 24 hours.? Alternatively, you can buy train tickets at BTG Travel & Tours, on Fwai Dajie between the New Otani and Gloria Plaza Hotels, open 08:00-20:00 but they may charge you a lot for service charge.

How to buy tickets:

If you want to book a Chinese train in advance from outside China, you can do this with several agencies, including Tickets cannot be posted abroad, but can be delivered to your hotel in China to be picked up when you get there. This will cost more than you'd pay at the ticket office, but if you really need to be on a particular train on a particular date, it can be worth booking ahead, especially at peak times, such as around the time of the the Spring Festival, 1st May, or 1st October.

Ask your hotel

Alternatively, your hotel may be able to arrange tickets if you book accommodation with them, and this may be the cheapest way to arrange tickets in advance. Remember that reservations for the best Z-category express trains open 20 days in advance, but for most other trains bookings only open 5-10 days before departure. Even an agency cannot positively confirm your booking before reservations open and they buy your ticket..!

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