China’s high speed rail grid amounts over 19,000 km nowadays. The bullet trains deliver billions of passengers to the total of 2306 high speed train stations every year. It is never easy, however, for an international traveler like you to have the first travel experience by train in such a large country.

The first difficult choice will be selecting a right station among 2 to 5 in a city. For example, there are 5 railway stations in Beijing - Beijing South (Nan) Station, Beijing North (Bei) Station, Beijing West (Xi) Station, Beijing East (Dong) Station, Beijing Railway Station. Which one should you choose as a departure station?

This ultimate guide will tell you the answer, and of course the other essential things and professional tips that need to know about China high speed train travel. Before you start your first ride, read this article to help you get better prepared.

For your convenience, we also have an index below to help you navigate to the section you’re interested in quickly.

Index

China High Speed Rail Network Map

China High Speed Rail Network Map in 2018

China High Speed Rail Network Map

With over 19,000 km high speed railways nowadays, China has the largest rail network in the world nowadays. Connecting more than 2500 train stations and covering over 80% cities today, it is estimated that the network will stretched another 5,000 km to some remote areas in the coming future.

According to the official statement from authorities, China will enlarge the network map to 30,000 km until 2020.



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What a Chinese High-Speed Train Looks Like: Modern and Cozy

The 2nd carriage on a high-speed train

The 2nd class cabin on a high-speed train

In the past, the younger generation of Chinese preferred taking airplanes to trains because the airplanes were fast and clean in comparison.

Nowadays, high-speed trains have become the most popular way to travel. The on-train facilities are clean, comfortable, and modern; even the second-class cars are better than economy class on airplanes.

On a high-speed train, the basic facilities include air-conditioning, free boiled water, adjustable seats, a tray table in front of each seat, Western-style toilets, Chinese-style toilets, a spacious baby care room, and a dining car.

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Types of High-Speed Train and Seat Classes: 3 Train Types and 6 Seat Classes

Types of High-Speed Train

High-speed trains are classified into three types: G, D, and C trains. In other words, all the train numbers that begin with G/D/C are high-speed trains.

A D-train

A D-train

  • G train: It is called gao tie in Chinese, which means “high-speed rail”. It is the fastest train type in China with the best service and facilities.
  • D train: It is called dong che in Chinese, which means “bullet train”. It is a little bit slower and cheaper than a G train.
    Generally, to most Chinese passengers, G and D trains are practically the same.
  • C train: This refers to intercity rail. It is the slowest type of high-speed train and only runs between two adjacent and important cities, or among urban clusters.

Seat Types

There are six different seat classes to choose from on high-speed trains: a business class seat, a superior class seat, a first-class seat, a second-class seat, a private soft sleeper, and a deluxe soft sleeper.

  • Business class seat: Generally, this is the best seat class, and passengers are served with free snacks and beverages. The spacious leather seats can recline to a fully horizontal position.
  • Superior class seat: This seat class is only available on a few high-speed trains. It is similar to a business class seat but its car is right behind the cockpits. Passengers in superior class cars can see the high-speed train drivers at work.
  • First-class seat: These are more spacious than the ones in second class, with four seats in a row.
  • Second-class seat: With five seats in a row, they are a little bit more spacious than seats found in economy class on airplanes. Since there are no doors between the cars, the second-class cars are a little noisy.
  • Private soft sleeper: This is a new sleeper type on D trains. Every berth is like a little compartment with a private reading lamp and a bed curtain.
  • Deluxe soft sleeper: This comprises four berths in a private compartment with a television, disposable slippers, and 220V sockets.
Superior class seat on Chinese train

Superior class seat

Business class seat on Chinese train

Business class seat

First class seat on Chinese train

First class seat

Second class seat on Chinese train

Second class seat

Capsule sleeper on high-speed train

Capsule sleeper

Read this detailed information about Chinese high-speed trains: 3 High Speed Train Types and 6 Seat Types in China.

Find out more information about normal-speed trains: 4 Normal-Speed Train Types and 5 Seat Classes in China.

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How Far in Advance to Book Your Train Ticket(s) in China

Generally, Chinese train tickets are released for sale 28–30 days before departure. It is recommended that you book/buy your ticket(s) as early as possible.

As taking a train in China is the most common form of transportation, Chinese train tickets (especially for the main lines) are always in great demand. So, to ensure your tickets can be booked successfully, we recommend you buy your train tickets at the following times:

Stations are full of people during holidays

Stations are full of people during holidays

  • For normal lines in normal times: book 3–7 days in advance
  • For main lines in normal times: book 10–15 days in advance
  • For trains running during national holidays: book 30 days in advance

During Chinese public holidays, especially around Chinese New Year, tickets are very hard to get. Over 29 billion train tickets needed by those who want to go home and back to work for China’s Spring Festival, so tickets usually are sold out within 5 minutes once China Rail releases them 30 days before departure time.
If you have to travel during Chinese Spring Festival, please book/buy the tickets more than 30 days in advance.

Chinese Legal Holidays in 2019
Festivals Dates Holiday Days
New Year's Day

Dec. 30 - Jan. 1

3
Spring Festival

Feb. 4 - Feb. 10

7
Tomb-Sweeping Day

Apr. 5 - Apr. 7

3
International Labor' Day

Apr. 29 - May 1

3
Dragon Boat Festival

Jun. 7 - Jun. 9

3

Mid-Autumn Festival

Sept. 13 - Sept. 15

3
National Day

Oct. 1 - Oct. 7

7

If you don’t wish to wait for the actual release date to buy your ticket(s), some online booking agencies allow you to order tickets in advance. Our China Train Booking app (App Store, Google Play, Android APK) is available for passengers to order Chinese train tickets at any time in advance

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How to Choose the Right Station: Multiple Stations Per City

A question that’s frequently asked by most of our customers is, “I saw many train stations in one city, so how do I choose the right one?”

Indeed, there is more than one railway station in most Chinese cities. However, it is not very difficult to decide which station to choose.

First, each city has an original station, which is named after the city and followed by "Railway Station", such as Beijing Railway Station.

The original station is usually the oldest station in that city. So, for train stations that were built afterwards, they are usually named according to their locations in the city, such as Shanghai South Railway Station and Beijing West Railway Station.

Therefore, you should ideally choose a station that operates trains to your destination as well as being near to your hotel/domicile.

However, when booking train tickets online, the different directions are named with Chinese spellings, such as dong, xi, nan, and bei. Here are the translations to help you understand the meaning when choosing a station:

  • Dong (东): East
  • Xi (西): West
  • Nan (南): South
  • Bei (北): North

For example, Beijing Xi Railway Station means Beijing West Railway Station and it is in the west of Beijing.

Use China Train Booking App (App Store, Google Play, Android apk), you won't be worry about selecting the right departure or arrival railway station. The online station map will help you make a decision and navigate your way.

how to choose the right train station

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Chinese Train Station Online Map

If you need to see the locations of the train stations before planning your journey, we also provide an online Chinese train station map. You just need to input the station name to see its location and nearby surroundings.

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Purchasing a Chinese Train Ticket: 4 Common Ways

In China, buying a train ticket has a real-name stipulation.

Foreigners need their passport numbers and passport names to buy/book tickets in China.

There are four common ways of buying Chinese train tickets:

  1. Book on the official website of China Railway: www.12306.cn.
  2. Buy at any railway station or train ticket outlet in China.
  3. Book by calling China Railway's booking hotline.
  4. Book via English service platforms, such as China Train Booking app.

See all the detailed steps for these four methods by reading How to Buy a China Train Ticket.

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How to Collect Train Tickets in China: You Only Need Your Passport and E-Number

If you book your train tickets online, you need to collect the paper tickets at the train station or from a ticket outlet.

Collect train ticket at the train station

Collect train ticket at the train station

After your train tickets are successfully issued online, you will receive an E-number (also called a collection number).

You just need to hand in both your original passport and the E-number to the clerk at any train station/ticket outlet to collect your paper tickets.

Train ticket outlets are found at different city locations but, as online booking has developed, the number of outlets has decreased. You need to pay 5 yuan per ticket when collecting your tickets from these outlets. Therefore, collecting your tickets at a railway station is recommended.

Here are some simple steps for collecting your tickets at railway stations:

  1. Go to the station and find a ticket window.
  2. Hand in your passport and E-number to the station staff.
  3. The staff will check whether your passport number is the same as the one you used to buy the ticket(s). If everything is correct, you will successfully get your ticket(s).

Or you can also choose our train ticket delivery service to save all these steps at the train station.

How can you find a ticket window quickly? How far in advance should you go to the station? See the specific guides by reading: How to Collect Train Tickets in China .

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How to Read a Chinese Train Ticket and Board a Train

how to read a Chinese train ticket

How to read a Chinese train ticket

Understand Your Chinese Train Ticket

Generally, like an airplane ticket, all your boarding information (such as the car number and seat number) is printed on your train ticket.

The picture below explains the information detailed on the tickets in English:

There are two kinds of ticket in China: blue tickets and red tickets. They are assigned at random, mainly depending on which kind of ticket paper is put in the automatic ticket machines. Generally, blue tickets have a larger circulation. 

The blue tickets are magnetic and can be checked by automatic ticket checkers at the ticket entrances, whereas the red tickets can only be checked by station attendants.

Board Your Train

board trains in China

Follow the indicator to find the right platform

You need to hold your train ticket(s) and original passport(s) to board trains in China.

Here are the brief steps on boarding trains in China:

  1. Go through the security check to enter the train station.
    * You need to show your ticket and original passport when passing through the security check.
  2. After entering the station, find your train’s waiting area/room.
  3. Line up to have your ticket checked 10–20 minutes before departure.
  4. Find the right platform.
  5. Find the right car to board and sit in the right seat.

For detailed guides, such as how to pass through the security check or how to find your waiting room, boarding platform, and seat, read: How to Board Trains in China.

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Popular Train Routes: Beijing - Shanghai, Guangzhou - Hong Kong ...

Beijing - Shanghai

  • Distance: 1463 km
  • High speed rail travel time:4.5h - 6h
  • Ticket price: CNY 553 - CNY 1748

As two main metropolises in China, there are thousands of people travelling by trains between Beijing and Shanghai. More than 40 trains operates everyday. 37 among them are high speed trains, numbered with letter “G”, running at over 300 km/h speed.

In Beijing, all the high speed trains to Shanghai depart from Beijing South (Nan) Railway Station; while in Shanghai, most of them are from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, and few of them are from Shanghai Railway Station.

Belonging to different train series and have different stops along the railway, the travelling duration of those high speed trains are not exactly the same. Usually, those trains goes faster belong to Fuxing Hao Series, the fatest trains currently in the world. The others belong to Hexie Hao Seires.

  • Fuxing Hao Train No.: G1, G2, G3, G4, G5, G6, G7, G8, G9, G10, G13, G14, G17, G18, G21, G22.

Here we list some popular trains schedules for your reference. Train tickets on these trains are so puplar that can be sold out in few hours in peak seasons.

To ensure you can grab the tickets you want, using China Train Booking App (App Store, Google Play, Android apk) as your ticketing agent is a good choice.

Beijing - Shanghai High Speed Train Timetable
Train No. Depart Station Depart Time Arrive Station Arrive Time
G5

Beijing South Station

7:00

Shanghai Station

11:40
G1

Beijing South Station

9:00

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

13:28
G7

Beijing South Station

10:00

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

14:28
G3

Beijing South Station

14:00

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

18:28
G11

Beijing South Station

15:00

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

19:28
G13

Beijing South Station

17:00

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

21:36
G6

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

7:00

Beijing South Station

11:38
G8

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

8:00

Beijing South Station

12:24
G10

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

10:00

Beijing South Station

14:28
G12

Shanghai Station

12:00

Beijing South Station

16:38
G14

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

15:00

Beijing South Station

19:38
G16

Shanghai Hongqiao Station

17:00

Beijing South Station

21:36

Guangzhou - Hong Kong

  • Distance: 102 km
  • High speed rail travel time:47m - 1h17m
  • Ticket price: CNY 215 - CNY 452

After the railroad between HK and Guangzhou opened to traffic since Sept.23, 2018, more and more people chose to travel by rail between the two places. 34 high speed trains are operating between HK West Kowloon Station and Guangzhou South Station everyday, almost one train on service every 30 minutes from 6:48 am to 10:50 pm.

Still there are 2 different train series operating: Vibrant Express and Hexie Hao. Except the not quite similar inner and outer design, the main difference between them is that there is no business class seat available on Vibrant Express series. And Vibrant Express series only serve on HK-Guangzhou railroad .

  • Vibrant Express series: G6581, G6582, G6583, G6584, G6585, G6586, G6587, G6588.

Here we list some popular trains schedules for your reference. Train tickets on these trains are so puplar that can be sold out in few hours in peak seasons.

To ensure you can grab the tickets you want, using China Train Booking App (App Store, Google Play, Android apk) as your ticketing agent is a good choice.

Guangzhou - Hong Kong High Speed Train Timetable
Train No. Depart Station Depart Time Arrive Station Arrive Time
G6501

Guang South Station

6:48

HK West Kowloon Station

7:43
G6503

Guang South Station

10:00

HK West Kowloon Station

10:47
G6583

Guang South Station

12:26

HK West Kowloon Station

13:04
G311

Guang South Station

16:02

HK West Kowloon Station

16:54
G6585

Guang South Station

17:43

HK West Kowloon Station

18:42
G99

Guang South Station

21:37

HK West Kowloon Station

22:28
G80

HK West Kowloon Station

8:05

Guang South Station

8:56
G6548

HK West Kowloon Station

10:00

Guang South Station

10:47
G6584

HK West Kowloon Station

11:17

Guang South Station

12:07
G312

HK West Kowloon Station

12:06

Guang South Station

13:05
G6114

HK West Kowloon Station

17:10

Guang South Station

18:09
G6504

HK West Kowloon Station

22:50

Guang South Station

23:41

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Baggage Allowance

According to China Railway’s rules, each child can carry 10 kg baggage and each adult can carry 20 kg baggage. The length, width, and height of each piece of baggage cannot exceed 160 cm respectively.
Shaft-shaped baggage cannot exceed 200 cm.

* Wheelchairs are not included in the calculation.

You don’t need to calculate strictly whether your baggage is over the weight limit as the station clerks won’t actually weigh your baggage if it doesn’t look as though it’s too big.

See all the guides about train baggage, such as baggage policies, baggage consignment, and the left baggage service, by reading Baggage Rules of China Rail .

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What to Eat and Drink on Chinese High-Speed Trains

The food on high-speed trains is slightly expensive compared with normal-speed trains, but it is tastier and there is more choice.

The box meal sold on high-speed train

The box meal sold on high-speed train

  • Box meals: A stewardess will push a dining trolley containing box meals at meal times. They usually cost 50 yuan/box.
  • Snacks: Between mealtimes, stewardesses push snack trolleys around that contain chips, beverages, and some local Chinese snacks, such as spicy tofu and plums.
  • Coffee and ice cream: On some high-speed trains, hot coffee and Häagen-Dazs ice cream are sold in trays.
  • Dining car: There is a dining car on each high-speed train and it is usually numbered as car number 5. You can order Chinese dishes and buy instant noodles, snacks, wine, and other beverages from the bar counter.

If you have a business class seat, you will have some free snacks and beverage. And there is a bar counter selling food and alcohol.

Find out more detailed information about the food and beverages sold on trains: Food and Beverage on China’s Trains.

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How to Deal with Emergency Situations Like Losing Your Ticket(s) and Missing Your Train

Losing Your Ticket(s)

If you lose your ticket, all you need to do is buy a duplicated ticket and get the refund after your train journey has finished.

To buy a duplicated ticket, go to the ticket window and tell the clerk that you have lost your original ticket.

You need to hand in your passport and give the clerk your train information, including the route, car number, and seat number. Then buy a duplicated ticket to board your train.

To get the refund for your duplicated ticket, remember to ask the train attendant to give you a “Travel Record (客运记录)” after you have boarded the train. You need to show the “Travel Record”, your duplicated ticket, and your passport to get the refund at the arrival station within 24 hours after you have finished your train journey.

To find out more detailed steps, read: What to Do If I Lost Train Ticket in China.

Missing Your Train

If you miss your train, you can change to another train operating on the same route and departing on the same date for free.

However, if there is no available train on the same date, your ticket may be considered invalid and you may be refused a refund.

Each train station in China has its own policies for dealing with missed trains. Some stations allow passengers to get a full refund if they go to the ticket window in the limited time, while some stations refuse to refund the fare in all instances.

To find out how to deal with this specific issue, read: What to Do If I Missed My Train.

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Dec. 12, 2018 Updated by: Sylvia Lo