Fangbianmian Express with baby on board
Considering transportation options for an upcoming trip to Shanghai? You could fly, but the July opening of the Huhanrong high-speed railway (沪汉蓉快速客运通道) shortened the formerly 40-hour train route to a mere 15 hours, making it a viable alternative for many travelers.
At around RMB600 for a second-class seat, opting for the train won't necessarily save you money, unless you're traveling last minute, at peak season, or with small children who do not need their own seat (children under 1.2 m ride free, and those between 1.2 m and 1.5 m are required to book only a half-priced child's ticket). However, the two daily trains are regularly fully booked, so there is clearly demand for the service.
The long railway was completed and opened briefly in 2011 as an overnight train route, but after a high-speed train wreck in Wenzhou that killed 40 and injured nearly 200 that same year, nighttime high-speed rail services were suspended.
The trains are theoretically designed for top speeds of 350 kmph but are currently traveling at around 200 kmph for most of the 2,000 km route with some peaks around 250 kmph.
A cross-country train trip might elicit romantic images of stunning countryside views, but much of the westernmost leg of the journey is in blackness as the railway bores through the massive mountains in Sichuan. The scenery is more visible starting from Chongqing, with the Yangtze River and the surrounding Karst formations.
-The trains can be noisy with people chatting and talking on the phone over the sound of rails, using their gadgets, and particularly because of the high proportion of child passengers. A means of drowning out the sound (MP3 player and sound-isolating earphones or simply earplugs) is highly recommended.
-A portable battery recharger is also not a bad idea. There appeared to be only one outlet in each car (even in 1st class), so good luck getting a turn — and not many devices can last the entire journey on one charge.
-Free hot water is available for passengers' hot drinks and instant noodle needs. However, the water supply often cannot meet the volume demand of the constant queues at the water stations.
-Boxed hot meals are sold around dinner time, and a selection of marked-up convenience-store snacks and drinks are also sold on carts that roll periodically through the cars. There is also a dining car selling coffee and tea. (Read: Best bring your own food and drinks.)
-Consider carefully whether you want to pay the extra RMB120 for first-class seats, which provide more legroom and cabin space in general and usually a quieter car and fewer children running around. Book the class you want because space will likely be unavailable for an upgrade once you're on the train.
-Pack lightly if possible as luggage stowing space is extremely limited and occupied on a first-come, first-served basis.
-Tickets are assigned in numerical order and do not take into account preferred grouping. One side of the car is lined with three seats (A, B, and C) and the other with two.
Chengdu-Shanghai Harmony High-Speed Rail
Of the two daily bullet trains, the faster, D2208/D2005, departs Chengdu East Station at 8 a.m. and arrives at Shanghai Hongqiao Station at 22:58, a mere 15 hours later. It stops in Chongqing, Wuhou, Hefei, Nanjing, Wuxi, and Suzhou, among other cities (see complete route here). Tickets are RMB607.5 for second class and RMB729 for first class seats. No beds are available.
Soft sleepers are available on the other bullet train, D628/D625, which departs from Chengdu (North) Station at 7:31 a.m. and arrives at Shanghai Hongqiao Station at 23:56 the same day. Tickets are RMB603 for first class and RMB1136.5 for a soft sleeper on this 16-hour ride. In comparison, the five K-series (fast) trains take between 29 and 38 hours to complete the Chengdu-Shanghai journey.
Image source: 163.com