New train service cuts Beijing-Shanghai travel times to four hours

By John Walton, January 6 2011
New train service cuts Beijing-Shanghai travel times to four hours

The new Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line opens for business this June, a year ahead of schedule, and will cut travel times between the two cities to three hours and fifty-eight minutes.

The 1,318-kilometre railway will dramatically reduce the rail time between China's capital and its largest economic hub from ten hours to just under four. China estimates a whopping 220,000 passengers will use the railway line each day.

With travel times that fast, it looks increasingly likely that the Beijing-Shanghai travel landscape will be changed as radically by high speed rail as the Madrid-Barcelona or London-Paris/Brussels routes were when the AVE and Eurostar opened. Flights between those destinations have decreased dramatically as travellers avoid out-of-town airports and travel from centre to centre by rail.

In Beijing, the terminus is the new Beijing South station, just off the south second ring road and with its own station on Beijing's subway line 4. That's pretty central for Beijing.

Shanghai's new Hongqiao station, just west of the existing Hongqiao domestic airport, is less central, but the station links into lines 2, 5 and 10 of the Shanghai Metro. 

How to buy tickets

There's no word yet on ticket prices, but expect them to undercut the airlines fairly significantly. However, while China's air travel system is fairly simple to book, trains are a bit more complicated.

Currently, trains open for reservation just 10-20 days before departure, and for the most part can only be sold by the station from which your train will leave.

The easiest way to buy train tickets is to get your hotel to do it for you. Just about every business-calibre hotels will have a travel agent attached, with English speaking staff. The surcharge for the agency should be around RMB 50-100 -- that's $7-15 Australian.

The opening of the route may be a few months away yet, but get your request in to your hotel sooner rather than later, as it's likely to be rather popular.

Australian Business Traveller top tips

Travelling by rail in China for the first time can be a little confusing. If you're not travelling with an old hand, here are a few pointers:

  • double-check which of the several Beijing and Shanghai stations your train is going to, and make sure you end up at the right one

  • if you don't read Chinese, the station itself may be a bit confusing. To navigate the destination boards, try to memorise the characters Beijing (??), Shanghai (??) and platform (??), and take special note of your train number, which will look like Z12 or D123
  • ask the travel agent to write out your carriage and seat number in English so you know where you're going on the platform
  • for a last resort, get your hotel or travel agent to write out a card in Chinese explaining that you are a foreigner who doesn't speak Mandarin, but is travelling from A to B on train C departing at D. 
  • the Shanghai and Beijing dialects are a bit different, so consider having a printout of the address and place you're going in your destination city ready to hand to the taxi driver if necessary

Have you travelled by train in China? Any top tips or secrets you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

06 Jan 2011

Total posts 14

If a long-distance train has a few stops, it pays to get your gear ready and wait at the door as you pull into the station. The trains only stop for 2 minutes before continuing. I was traveling from Beijing to Qinhuandao and only just managed to get off in time, otherwise I would have ended up 800km away in Harbin!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Nov 2010

Total posts 60

I've used trains thoughout China many times, in general they are extremely efficient and run on time, for popular destinations expect the trains to fill quickly and leave every 10 or 15 minutes, as mentioned if your stop is somewhere other than the final destination then get your gear ready as they wait for nobody, you have a few minutes at best to get off

Tickets have the seat and carriage numbers in English and the destination is also normally in English (PinYin) so reasonably easy to work out, high speed trains generally have scrolling LED displays at each end of each carriage that will show the speed, time to destination, temperature, next stop etc and will alternate between Chinese and English text, easy enough to see when your destination is coming up, provided you stay awake of course

If you are buying a ticket at the raliway station you will normally find at least one counter setup for foriegners where there will be staff that can speak just enough English to work out where you are going and how many tickets you need, for high speed trains the first class carriages are quite often no different to the regular class carriages, if you ask for a first class ticket you are often getting nothing different, paying more for the priviledge and quite often will end up on a later train than if you take a regular cattle class seat as the first class seats on earlier trains are already sold out, particularly if purchasing your ticket from the railway station

Any railway station I've been at has also had an automated ticketing machine (or many) and the touchscreen interface is available in Chinese and English and are quite easy to operate, choose your destination, feed in your notes and off you go, ticket in hand

There are many smartphone applications available that can make traveling much easier, railway maps, translation software etc and can be really helpful, you'll often find even if someone can't speak much English if you can show them what you want on screen they can often assist and many are more than willing, often you'll find if someone can speak a little English they will sometimes go out of the way to try and help you and have a chance to practice their English skills

Food and drink is generally sold on board so don't worry too much if you have to rush for the train and don't get a chance to grab a snack or a coffee or whatever

30 Apr 2011

Total posts 1

May I inquire if this train service is operating for 24 hours? And if so, would it be relatively easier to get a train ticket just at the station during 1am to 6am since that will be the arrival time of our flight also.


Thanks for all replies and help.

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