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High-speed rail upgrades holiday travel experience
The Lunar New Year holiday used to be a challenging time for Liu Chao and his wife, who are white-collar workers in Beijing. The wife's parents often asked them to spend the festival with them in Tianjin, while the husband's parents wanted them to travel to Yanji in Jilin Province.
The annual dilemma was settled this year thanks to the new high-speed rail route linking Beijing and Yanji, which opened in 2015. The rail has shortened the travel time between the two cities from the previous 15 hours by ordinary train to eight hours, and ticket shortages have also been greatly eased.
The couple spent the first two days of the week-long holiday celebrating the Chinese New Year in Tianjin and then took the high-speed train back to the northeastern Jilin for reunion.
"The high-speed train has offered so much help. We are no longer forced to make hard choices," said Liu.
High-speed rail is playing an ever more important role in the Spring Festival travel rush. China Railway Corporation (CRC), operator of China's rail network, said more than 60 percent of all the trains serving the rush are now high-speed with spacious seats, running at speeds about 300 kilometers per hour.
Besides offering convenience, the rapidly developing railways are also making the holiday travel a more comfortable experience.
Zhou Yuan, vice head of Nanchang train station in east China's Jiangxi Province, said the train station has been upgraded with the development of high-speed rail.
"Compared with 10 years ago, the environment for those buying tickets and waiting for trains have improved a lot," he said. "With the launch of online booking and self-help ticket machines, people don't have to wait in long lines for tickets. The train waiting halls have also been enlarged."
Behind the smooth operation of the high-speed trains are many rail workers who sacrificed their holiday sticking to their post.
You Yongjiang, 24, is responsible for maintaining the overhead electric rail lines. He has been on at a cross-sea bridge rail section in eastern Shandong Province this Spring Festival.
At times, he was forced to climb the line towers at midnight during freezing winds after the trains stopped operating to clean the facilities to ensure electricity supply for the trains.
"Luckily, the weather has not been too cold in recent days, so the facilities have not become icy and slippery. But birds are building nests on the catenaries in warm weather and we need to remove the branches," he said.
"It is no easy job, but it's a fulfilling one since our effort ensures the safety of passengers traveling for family reunions."
The CRC estimated that about 332 million passenger trips would be made by train during the travel rush from Jan. 24 to March 3.
China has the world's largest high-speed rail network, with the total operating length reaching 19,000 km by the end of 2015.
The CRC plans to spend another 800 billion yuan (around 121 billion U.S. dollars) in 2016, especially in less-developed central and western regions.