There have been several articles lately talking about the boom in fast train (aka, high speed trains) usage over the last few years in China. They talk about how the fast trains are environmentally friendly, safe, and, of course, fast. But all of these articles seem to miss the human element, the real experience, of riding on fast trains vs. China’s airways. So here in nauseating detail are the reasons why I love China’s fast trains and you should too!
1) Getting there. This might not be the same in all cities, but in Changsha, just getting to the airport is a nightmare. The airport is about twice the distance from downtown as the fast train station. Taxi drivers hate going out there (most flat-out refusing) and will do anything they can to avoid using the meter to overcharge you because it is just so damn far. There is also a toll booth which adds 10 RMB to your cab fee. There is also no current plan to run a subway out there while there will be a subway stop fairly close to the fast train station within the next two years. Based on the location of the train station vs. the airport in Changsha is one of the main reasons I love the fast train, but we are only getting started!
2) Price. Airline prices fluctuate wildly depending on the time of day you want to fly and when you buy your ticket. A round trip ticket from Changsha to Shenzen can cost anywhere from 1200 RMB to 2000 RMB for coach seats. Second-class fast train tickets are always 800 RMB for a round trip Changsha-Shenzhen trip.
3) Luggage. You can take pretty much as much luggage on the fast train as you want. There is no limit to how many bags you can take, their size, or their weight. There are places above and under the seats for luggage and large areas in the back of each car for large bags or just extra bags. Airlines in China, like everywhere, limit your carry-ons and charge exorbitant fees for checked luggage, extra luggage, or oversized/overweight luggage.
4) Few banned items. Actually, the only things I can think of that you can’t take on a fast train are weapons and pets. You do have to run your luggage through an x-ray machine, but I have no idea what they are looking for. Lighters? Fine. Case of beer? Great! Smuggled antiques from Hong Kong? Be our guest! We were really bummed out when we found out that you can’t take pets with you, even with health checks from the vet like you can on slow trains, airplanes, and buses. Since we are moving to Shenzhen, we will be taking the slow train to move the pets, but other than pets and knives, you can pretty much take anything you want with you on the fast train.
5) No lines. You don’t need to exchange your ticket for a boarding pass or to take your shoes off for security so if you buy your tickets in advance (which you should always do because fast trains are now so popular that most trains sell out) you could arrive as late as your boarding time and still get on the train before it pulls away (been there, done that).
6) No need to wait for anyone else. You can still be standing with your luggage, waiting to get to your seat and the train can pull away. There is no need for seats to be in the upright position or window shades open or everyone to be buckled up before the train start moving.
7) You don’t have to turn off your electronics for the train to start moving.
8) Fast trains are always* on time. Airports in some of China’s cities have an on-time rate as low as 18%. So not only do you have to be early to catch a flight (1-2 hours), most times your flight will then be delayed adding hours to your travel time. So any time you save by flights being slightly faster, you waste just with waiting. While sometimes fast trains have delays, they are extremely rare. As a frequent fast train traveler (6+ times per year), I have never experienced a late fast train. I tell people that with flying you spend more time preparing to travel, while with fast trains you spend more time just traveling.
8) There are outlets underneath every seat on the fast train.
9) The seats turn around. This is a very cool feature if you are traveling with a larger group.
10) Comfort. While there are first-class train cars and business-class train cars, I always travel second-class. The seats are still cushy, there is plenty of legroom, and you can lean your seat back without crushing the person behind you. There is also something very lullying about riding in a fast train. Kind of like how as soon as you get into a car, the humming and rocking will put a baby to sleep, this is how I am on fast trains. I had to start carrying a neck pillow with me because I can’t help falling asleep on a fast train trip anymore. I have never been able to sleep on an airplane (even on a 14 hour flight).
11) The view! I love seeing China’s countryside change as you cover hundreds of miles in a matter of hours. This is something that you can’t do from a plane or overnight train and is the next-best thing to driving. Fast trains are pretty quiet and getting to watch the mountains and little villages go by is very idyllic and romantic. It is very cool.
Inspite of all the good points listed above, though, I do have to acknowledge one bad thing about riding in the fast train – rude parents.
This is a general complaint about traveling in China (on any train, bus, or plane), but seems to be exceptionally bad on fast trains. Parents love to let kids play on iPads and iPhones with the volume turned up to full blast without any earphones. I completely understand that some parents think that earphones are bad for a kid’s ears, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to let them play music or games on full volume. It is rude, rude, rude! Fast trains are very quiet and (as I said above) it is easy to sleep on them. For parents to let their kids disturb the quiet of the train ride just grinds my gears. I admit that I am that person giving parents ugly stares until they turn the volume down (it usually works). I would love to see the fast trains institute “quiet cars” or something so I can enjoy my ride in peace.
Because of all of the above reasons, I highly prefer the fast train and if you aren’t a regular fast-train user, you really need to try it. Have you ridden the fast train? Do you prefer fast trains or flying and why? Feel free to share your experiences below!