Late January will witness an unpreceden-ted number of rail passengers, as more and more people make their way back to their family homes for the Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 3 this year.
The mobility in China during the Spring Festival period is the world's largest annual human migration, as tens of millions of migrant workers return home to inland provinces, often their only chance for a family gathering for the whole year. Trains are the best option for most of these travelers, especially the farmers-turned workers, although some might drive and some might make their way home on foot, or as best they can.
The central government is planning to invest 350 billion yuan ($53 billion), or 50 percent of its total investment in infrastructure facilities, in building high-speed railways this year. But high-speed trains can't help relieve the stress on the railway system during this peak travel season as high-speed rail prices are unaffordable to migrant workers, and in addition, these fast trains skip many small stations where their homes are located.
So, as in previous years, recurring problems continue to plague holiday rail travelers. They have to queue up for hours for a ticket, ticket scalpers take advantage of their desperation and railway stations are far from clean and orderly.
While the government introduced a real-name ticket selling system on a trial basis for last year's Spring Festival, which was designed to stop ticket scalping, it might be wiser to think about better logistics.
Why has it given a cold shoulder to the Internet when the world is flat? ID-based online ticket booking might by-pass the ticket scalpers. For those migrant workers who are computer illiterate, more booking offices should be offered.
Some scholars keep proposing that ticket fares be raised to keep Spring Festival travelers where they are. But they miss the point.
College students have to travel during the summer and winter breaks and migrant workers want to return home to see their children and parents.
So, some people have suggested encouraging migrant workers to return to their family homes at different times. But with a large pool of labor wanting their jobs, the migrant workers dare not ask for a leave.
Most of the travelers don't have any wild expectations about returning home in a luxurious way. They just want to get there and back again safe and sound.