The Train Network
The train is one of the main means of transportation in China and the national rail network is one of the biggest of the world; only those from the United States and Russia are larger in size. Nevertheless, China's overall density of operations –standard measure (freight ton-kilometres + passenger-kilometres)/length of track- is the highest in the world. The Chinese railroads transported 453.25 million passengers in the first quarter of this year, indicate official data dating from the beginning of April, 2012.
The network today serves all provinces, with the exception of the special administrative region of Macau and is expected to grow to 110,000 km by the end of 2012 in the frame of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan building program (21,800 km of railroad lines in the 1950s). Five years only after having opened its first high-speed rail road, China already possesses the first network of HST (High Speed Train) of the world.
China revealed its new “even faster experimental train” capable of reaching 500 kph, reports Radio China International on 27/12/2011. The design of the train “is inspired by the shape of a traditional sword", and its capacities mark the ambition of the country to pursue its railroad, particularly intense development these last years.
The official media speak about this prototype as the fruit of "visionary researches " intended to be an experimental "platform for new technology", quoting in particular the originality of materials - plastic strengthened by carbon fibre and by magnesium - and 6 cars all endowed with a driving strength. Beijing insists besides on the development of a new HST made in China intended for the export.
The Air Travel
The air travel also knew a strong growth since the late 1990s. An opinion poll led by the International Airport Board in the year 2011 demonstrated that the five best airports of the world are situated in Asia Pacific. 300,000 passengers were questioned, in 153 airports worldwide.
“The best airports are the ones which offer the essential bases, as a pleasant atmosphere, the cleanliness, the efficiency of the check-in, the politeness of the employees, comfortable waiting rooms " has been pointed out.
Places three, four and five are respectively occupied by the international airport of Hong Kong, that of Beijing and of Shanghai –Pudong- behind the airport of Seoul, in Korea, which offers the best services to the passengers and this for the sixth consecutive years and that of Singapore, the Changi airport.
Besides, Shanghai also received the price of the best improvement of its services, thanks to its role in the welcome of the tourists during the World Fair of 2010. At the same time, the government widened the highway system; China so has the second biggest motorway network of the world, after the United States and all the big cities should be connected to it in 2020.
The question that the tourists often arise is: how to move? In China, there is a wide range of choices. In the cities, the subway remains maybe the most practical because it’s fast. To go to little towns and in the province, the taxi could really be the solution. Additionally, the prices are quiet cheap.
Modes of Transportation
China advantaged for a long time the train to the road. Nevertheless, during these last years, China quickly reconditioned its road network and considerable progresses were realized resulting in a rapid increase of motor vehicle use throughout the country. However, the shape of roads remains extremely uneven because of the problems of maintenance and the rudeness of the natural elements. The big metropolises and their peripheries are more advanced. Further into the country, there are still muddy tracks.
Road usage has increased significantly and will thus insure you some slowing downs, as automobiles, including privately-owned vehicles, rapidly replace bicycles as the popular vehicle of choice in China in the mid-2000s. Car ownership is still low; indeed the rate in China is only expected to meet the 1960s level of car possession of some developed countries in 2015.
The production of the electric bicycle began in the 60s and exploded in the 90s and was one of the ten priorities of development of the 9th five year plan. But since a few years, it raises trouble and is called the “silent killer ". Fast and silent, if the maximal speed authorized is 15km / hour, more than 80 % of the users exceed this limit, according to Shanghai Daily. The accidents multiply and in Shanghai, approximately 40 % of fatal road accidents involve electric bikes.
If you rent a car, it’s necessary to have a driver because the only recognized licence is the Chinese one; solution more expensive than the bus or the train.
In Hong-Kong and Macau, people drive to the left, in mainland China to the right but in reality the Chinese manner is very lawlessness.
China without its numerous bikes is not any more China! Even if cars and motor vehicles (or electric) invade gradually big cities, the bicycle, the easiest and most economic style of transportation, still remains the favourite of the Chinese people, at least in the small and average cities.
Bicycle paths follow main avenues. In adjacent streets, the cyclists are kings because more abundant than the motorists. In most of the cities and the places of interest, bicycles to be rented can be found in specialized stores or directly at the hotel. It’s generally necessary to leave its passport (a photocopy suits) or a pledge. Be sure to agree on the price and the duration of the rent. Be vigilant, the Chinese bikes have no light in front (except in exceptional circumstances).
An advice: never leave without your city plan containing the names of the streets in Chinese.
The inner-city buses: After the bicycle and the walking, it’s the most economic solution and the most comfortable one! In big cities, buses are numerous and the system works rather well. They drive from 6 am till 11 pm. Even if you don’t speak Chinese, you can manage, on the condition of taking a plan with the names of the streets in Chinese. Do not hesitate to verify the destination with a Chinese traveller.
Normally, the bus stops everywhere, except when there is nobody at the station. By safety measure, warn the driver or the employee of the wished stop.
Trolleybus systems or electric buses: As of 2010, trolleybuses provide a portion of the public transit service in 14 Chinese cities. All trolleybus systems in China opened after 1950 with the exception of Shanghai, which remains in operation and opened in 1914; it’s the longest-lived trolleybus system in the world.
Travel by bus inside China: It requires a little of patience and ingenuity because at bus stations, as in buses, everything (or almost) is written in Chinese. That’s why, try to pass by the small agencies could be a good idea.
On the main axes connecting big cities, the "VIP" bus (Gaokuai Daba) is equipped with the air conditioning and with leaning seats. On the night routes, there is also bus-couchette (Wopuche).
Out of main trunk roads, the traffic is assured by minibuses (zhongba) or small vans. Less comfortable, they often leave only when they are full. The bus journey can be testing, especially if the passengers smoke. Nevertheless, it is a unique experience.
This mode of transport is easy and little expensive. In big cities, all the vehicles have a meter, almost systematically used. In towns and in province, ask at your hotel to know the current price of a ride. For long routes, it is very well possible to negotiate an interesting all-inclusive price as far as the practised prices are known. Taxis are everywhere and at any time of day and night. You have just to hail them or to call by phone. In their great majority, the drivers don’t try to cheat.
Tip: the taxi drivers in China speak only Chinese. Little of them speak English! So it’s needed to have the purposeful address written in Chinese characters.
The larger cities have metro systems in operation, under construction, or in the planning stage. This rapid underground transit is very adapted to the unlimitedness of the Chinese big cities and is unchallenged in its ability to transport large amounts of people at high frequency quickly over short distances connecting a district to the other one avoiding the traffic jams. Shanghai Metro, which opened in 1995, is the longest metro system in the world. Tickets are sold by employees or by automatic machines.
For the long distances, the train is the most practical and the most economic of all the means of transportation. The Chinese trains leave and arrive on time, but they are either very slow (12 to 2o hours from Beijing to Shanghai) or very fast. A lot of slow trains remain out of main roads. Anyway, the railroad journey in China is also a human experience.
For reservation and purchase of tickets using a travel agency or the hotel is time saving and avoids communication inconvenience you may come across in return of a small commission. To buy a ticket at the station of big cities, privilege counters indicated in English "ticket office”, on which the counter clerks are supposed to speak English.
On major lines, the reservations (included the return) are made until 10 or 20 days in advance at the best. For others, 4 days in advance maximum and one-way only. In any case, it's better to buy the ticket at least the day before.
Stations: notice boards are mainly written in Chinese. It’s thus necessary to focus on the train number displayed approximately 15 minutes before the departure.
Comfort: there are four possible options in the traditional slow trains. The hard seats (yingzuo) in imitation leather or wooden, with a stiff chair back, which are often assaulted. The hard couchettes (yingwo), in imitation leather, squeeze on three levels into a compartment of six places. The wide and comfortable soft seats or banquettes (ruanwo) by compartments of four places, which are by far the most pleasant for night trains. In HST, there are three categories of seats: second, first and business class. The second class is cheap and comfortable with enough space for legs which is not the case for high standard seats much more expensive.
Meal in the train: the quality of the food in the long distance trains is disappointing.
Be careful; as the ticket is often required secure the easy accessibility.