Tracking changes at a railway station

Updated: 2012-12-26 07:56

By Zheng Jinran and Pei Pei in Shijiazhuang (China Daily)

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 Tracking changes at a railway station

Young passengers pose for pictures at the new Shijiazhuang railway station. It started operation on Dec 21 in preparation for the first high speed trains from Beijing to Guangzhou, which will pass through the city from Dec 26. Chen Tengfei / For China Daily

Among the flood of passengers streaming out of the new Shijiazhuang railway station, there is a young woman who stands out. She is not rushing in or out, nor is she burdened with luggage. Instead, she is busy taking photographs.

Every time Zhang Xin had taken a train from her hometown to Beijing where she has been working in the last two years, she had stopped to take pictures of the train station.

"I record the dramatic changes at the station for my own collection," the 25-year-old says, as she snaps more shots of the brand-new turnstiles.

"The better service at the new station reminds me of the Beijing South Station, and it's comfortable and convenient," she says.

Shijiazhuang, once a tiny village of about 600 people, was put on the map in 1902 when the railway connecting Beijing and Wuhan was built. Then more lines were built, making the little place a railway hub in northern China.

Soon, the city will see another boom as the high speed train from Beijing to Guangzhou, which will pass through Shijiazhuang, starts running on Dec 26.

More than 280 trains, including about 60 pairs of high speed trains, will stop at the new station every day, from which more than 50,000 passengers will board the trains or disembark.

"The new high speed rail and the new station give us the chance to improve the environment and serve the passengers better," says Li Xiaogang, director of the Shijiazhuang railway project bureau.

The new station is a four-story building with a built-in area of 107,000 square meters. It is located in the southern part of the central city, different from other cities that have chosen to place their new stations in the suburbs.

But this brave choice of location also brings challenges, such as the lengthy tracks that pass right through the city. To reduce potential pollution, about 5 km of the railway tracks have been built underground.

This tunnel contains six parallel lines, and there will be a 70-meter green belt above it.

"It'll be our city's new axis," Li says. "It will also serve residents better as a large city park, and improve the air quality."

Qin Jianjun, who has worked at the old station since 1987, says the new station will save commuters time with intelligent equipment such as electronic ticket gates.

"Passengers during the Spring Festival holiday can enjoy the modern station and leave with a better impression of our city," he says.

As for the businesses that have grown up around the old station, there is now more room for expansion. Wholesale markets for clothes, hotels and other shops have made the location an important business center. For some, however, there is the fear of reduced business due to the reduction of passenger traffic.

Cao Zhenping, owner of a small shop and fast food booth near the old station, was a little worried about the future. Her monthly rental is about 20,000 yuan ($3,200).

"I can make little money because of the high rent, but now I can make no money after the station closed," she says.

The old station will be transformed into a railway museum documenting the long history of trains and their connection to the city, but it will be some time yet before it becomes a regular attraction.

Cao's shop sells local souvenirs or snacks that can be eaten on the trains. The fast food provided is mainly affordable noodles or other economical small dishes.

"I have to improve the menu to provide better meals for workers or residents nearby now. But I'm afraid that cannot last long, and then I'll have to find a new shop near the new station or shut down," she says, adding that rental near the new station is also high and available shops are few.

Many smaller shops also feel the chill and some have already begun clearing their stock before closing down.

The renewal process may be painful for some, but the area around the new station will ultimately be upgraded into a center for cultural activities, according to the railway bureau's Li Xiaogang.

As for the new station, it is flourishing as the new high speed trains passing through the city help shorten traveling time.

Beijing to Shijiazhuang will take an hour, and people traveling to Taiyuan in the west and Zhengzhou in the south will also take about an hour to reach their destinations.

Thirty-four bus routes leave and arrive just outside the station, and the first subway will also be connected soon. There is also an ambitious plan to turn the 7.9 square kilometer area around the new station into a new financial center.

But the boom will push up land prices and rental.

Liu Xinzhu, 65, who lives across the road from the new station, says apartments in her community now fetch a good price, even though they are older. Owners of small shops along the road also increased their rental rates.

"I received many calls from friends asking me to find shops in recent months, but the rent has increased by 100 percent," she says.

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(China Daily 12/26/2012 page20)