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One Ticketing System, Two Experiences

Song Chunling, a postgraduate studying in Beijing, describes her experiences buying two tickets to see her parents in Shandong for New Year. Using the student section of the China Railways website, it took her 5 minutes to get her own ticket, but getting one for her sister, who isn’t a student, took 5 hours and a call to the neighboring province.

A month ago on Dec 5, I checked my university email and noticed a message marked as very important-information on the train ticket booking for students in 2012. It said that all the students should hurry up to book the train tickets home before 9 a.m. on Dec 15th.

Unlike in previous years, students weren’t required to fill in paper forms with the booking information or to hand in their student cards for ticket reservations. Instead a website address was provided in the email, and clicking on it took me to the brand-new online train ticket booking system and a special page for the universities. Following the instructions in the email, I signed in easily with my university account. After choosing the right train, the right stop and filling in my personal information and ID numbers, the online booking was finished within 5 minutes.

Together with all the other classmates, I paid 100 yuan booking fee later to the agent in charge of the train bookings for students in my university. In late December, I paid for the rest of the fee and received my train ticket for Jan 15 with a 25% discount for students. The ticket is valid together with my student card as well as my ID card.

However using the same online booking website, my second experience – getting a ticket for my sister - seemed like a marathon.

A week ago, my sister asked me to book a ticket for her on Jan 21 - two days before the Chinese Spring festival. Although I’d heard about how hard that is, it didn’t make the experience any easier to bear.

I started my computer at 8 am in the morning. After repeating entering my email, password and CAPTCHA  for nearly an hour, I finally logged in successfully. However to my disappointment, all the booking buttons were grey and it appeared all tickets had been sold out for the 11 trains. I kept reloading the page and in the meantime kept trying the telephone booking. Unsurprisingly, the line was always busy.

After about 40 minutes, there suddenly appeared tickets for all the trains. However each time I tried to book online, the system was too busy and I would be directed to the previous page to make the order again. After 20 minutes with the unsuccessful online and telephone booking, all tickets expect for a few business seats had been sold out again. This happened two more times, and I still hadn’t made a successful order.

By noon I was exhausted. A friend told me she had been able sto buy a ticket online a day after they had appeared to be sold out because some of the orders hadn’t been paid and collected in time. I checked online and it says around 30 percent of the tickets booked via phone either not collected or cancelled. Another friend tried for 3 hours and finally booked one ticket by phone. My chances seemed slimmer, as it was nearer to the Spring Festival.

Later some friends suggested that I could try to call the booking number of nearby provinces rather than the one of Beijing. With a desperate attempt, I finally get connected and the recorded voice on the phone was music to my ears!

I called my sister and told her the booking numbers and the seat. The ticket needed be fetched within 24 hours with her ID card. We later shared some tips from the online and telephone booking and decided to keep them in mind for next time


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