Train travel in China is the most-used method of transportation to travel long distances. The network is extensive and covers most of the country. Of course, there are still remote parts of China where only buses can reach. However, compared to the buses, trains are more comfortable and safer.
Classes and trains
Currently, China is building a network of high speed trains (similar to the TGVs) and there are already some routes where they operate on. Look for trains marked “G” (latest generation, fastest), “C” (intercity high speed) or “D” (older generation). Most tickets are sold for assigned seats but sometimes no-seat tickets are also sold. These are non-smoking trains and have airplane-type of seats. “Z” or “T” trains are not high speed (but travel at up to 160 kmph) , while “K” trains are the slowest and more crowded. General fast trains and General trains are also available.
Most high speed trains have first and second (tourist) classes. On high speed trains some VIP seats are also available. On regular trains, you can also find soft sleepers, hard sleepers (3 beds), soft seats, hard seats and standing.
Announcements are made also in English on high speed trains but on the local trains you won’t get such a treatment. So, you’d better know you are heading the right way and where you need to get off.
Tickets can be purchased up to seven days in advance, at the point where the train starts. The biggest demand is for hard sleeper and hard seat, but regardless of the train or seat you must present an ID in order to get tickets.
You can also get tickets from the railway ticket agencies, marked “Booking Office for Train Tickets” (in English and Chinese). Tickets can be bough up to 10 days in advance. There are also some agencies which sell tickets online (such as this one ).
>>here you can check the train times in English
Don’t expect the personnel at the train station ticket office or elsewhere to speak English. Your best bet is to write the name of the departure and arrival stations in Chinese (and English) on a piece of paper, as well as the date and time of departure and the train number. Just remember that many cities have different stations for regular trains and high speed trains.
You need the ticket to enter and exit a station. There are inspections at the entrance hall, boarding gate and the exit gate. The gate will be opened about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure. Look for the announcements (they are written in Chinese but the train number is something you’ll be able to recognize).