Travel, Teach, Live in China
China now has the most extensive and well-traveled rail system in the world, with this mode of transportation still relevant to a huge number of passengers. Unlike in other countries, trains aren't focused on moving freight in China.
For travelers coming from the United States, China Railways offers a different service from Amtrak. Trains in mainland China are a utilitarian mode of transportation for a large portion of the population, similar to air travel in America. They offer a dependable solution that reaches at least as many destinations as planes at a lower per-mile price.
The China Railways network covers every province and region in mainland China, with routes also extending to Hong Kong. Joint routes offer access to Mongolia, Russia and Vietnam. Trains bearing the circle and hammer logo are China Railways runs. When speaking of trains in China, only the mainland network proper is considered, not including urban commuter rail routes.
Trains are designated by class based on speed, with most trains classed as K, going at about 80 miles per hour. Faster service is offered by T and Z trains, going at 100 to 200 mph. The faster the train, the costlier the ticket and less frequent the departure time.
Within trains, several seat types are available. A hard seat is a simple wooden bench, offered mostly on slower trains. A soft seat is a padded version. A hard sleeper is an army-style bunk bed with six people per berth. A soft sleeper is the most luxurious, accommodating four people in comfort.
Tourists in no rush to get to their destination city can save money by traveling by train, and may take in more of the country by doing so. Train travel, especially in cheaper seat and hard sleeper classes, offers ample opportunity to mingle with locals.
The dining car on trains in China offers universally authentic and affordable cuisine that all new arrivals should sample.
Avoid traveling by train around the Chinese New Year season, typically starting in late January and lasting through February. Other peak travel days include May 1 and the October national holiday.
Make sure you know how long the train takes to get there. Slow, cross country trips can take days.
Only buy tickets at train stations and licensed travel agents. The China Travel Service is recommended.