China is often touted as being the future, and a beacon of modern infrastructure development. One of the major landmarks of their rise to becoming a modern world power is the building and implementing a 21st century railway system. Right at the top of this monstrous metal food chain is the high speed railway. The G series train or 高铁 as it is known locally is China's answer to the ageing French TGV and the Japanese shinkansen. While it does certainly make long distance journeys much more comfortable and convenient, there are some key points for international visitors to take note of.
1. Booking Actual Tickets Outside of China is Impossible
China enforces the policy of requiring passenger identification documents at the point of travel very strictly. While it is possible to get an agency to make a reservation in advance for you, you still have to physically present your passport and collect the actual tickets for use for travel. This also means that all the automated counters that make everyone else's lives easier are not available to overseas visitors and usually picking up tickets means long lines at the station. Going through an agent solves this, but also comes at a significant cost, for both the actual booking and sometimes even delivery of tickets to your hotel.
2. You Get What You Pay For
When one compares the Chinese high speed rail product to their international equivalents, the quality difference shows. While the French TGV makes use of 2-2 and 2-1 seating in second and first class respectively, the Chinese G series makes use of 3-2 and 2-2 seating in the same. This means that while ticket prices are much lower than international standards, so is the quality. It also becomes apparent in the finish of the trains.While it is obvious that I'm nitpicking here, and for the most part the average traveller wouldn't notice nor care about the difference, the fit and finish of the trains is decidedly shoddier than the Japanese Shinkansen or even the American Acela Express. These were mass transport trains meant to connect vast swathes of country, essentially your commuter trains that move really quickly.
3. Most High Speed Trains Stop at Peripheral Stations
Due to the higher speed and wider gauge of the higher speed trains, it is rare to find the express trains stopping in central stations. Most of the time, many big Chinese cities have central and satellite stations which cater to different types of trains. This means that should you so choose to arrive by express train to Beijing South Station from Tianjin, you'd have to factor in another 30 minutes by local metro to get into the city centre. It becomes similar to flying in the sense that you'll eventually need to cater transfer times to and from the stations, which can make the entire journey less viable and less attractive than flying. To find express trains that call at city centre stations takes a great degree of perseverance and also limits the available train times.
4. Not All Trains in China are Fast
While we're often presented with the top of the line bullet trains in China, these don't necessarily form the bulk of all trains that ply the tracks. In fact, there are 6 types of trains which (when arranged fastest to slowest) are G, D, C, Z, T and K. When shuttling between nearer destinations, you'll often not have the faster options available, and this is where the problem begins. The G series trains are an amazing value proposition, but get on anything under a D series train, and you'll be excited to see how disproportionate the development has become.
5. Doing Your Research is Key
All things considered, it is critical to ensure that you do the groundwork or research to ensure that you're getting the best for what you pay for. It certainly varies on a case by case basis, where a flight from Shanghai to Beijing might be cheaper than a day train, and might end up being more convenient. In another case, taking a slow sleeper train might not cost that much less than taking an express train for a few hours. Knowing what you want and knowing what lies ahead can be daunting, and with our China travel experts here at Diners World Travel, we can be there to guide you through the process and help you make your dream trip come true!