Guide to long distance Trains in China

In China, ‘trains’ refer to long distance high speed trains that go between cities and provinces. You must buy tickets before travel and ID is needed, and the local transportation cards are not accepted.

Being a major transport hub, security checks are in place. Cigarette lighters are confiscated and people are checked for explosives. The process is very fast and simple, and starts at the entry to the building.

The train station halls are raised above ground and accessible by escalators and lifts.IMG_3015.jpgOutside Nanjing South Station with the highway above.

Entering the stationIMG_3017

The train stations are very large halls like airports, there are shops, restaurants, information centers and lots of seating.

DSC07325Security check and bag scanning at entry to Nanjing South train station

DSC07324Nanjing South Station


DSC07327Waiting hall. Click here and here for a brief video.

DSC07329Some of the retailers upstairs. There are also restaurants in the train stations.

Train stations, unlike airports, are usually used by Chinese citizens to travel domestically so the toilets in the train station are squat toilets only, (at least so in Shanghai HongQiao). The signs are also mostly in Chinese Han Yu.

The platforms are at ground level and accessible by escalators.

DSC07333Escalators down to a platform at Nanjing South Station. The platforms are empty before the specified train arrives and the gate only opens a few minutes before it arrives. There are markings on the platform that specifies the location of the door of the carriage, station staff are at each spot. Click here for a short video.


IMG_3030People lining up to wait for the train

Like an airport, there are electronic billboards at both stations that show which gate/platform your train will depart from and where it will arrive. This information would be useful if a friend was picking you up, they would know which gate to wait for you.

DSC08359Billboard at Shanghai HongQiao Train Station. The first column has the train number, the second one has the first station that train departed from, the middle column is the arrival time at current station, the 4th column has the platform number and the last column has the status. “正点” (zhèng diǎn) means on time. “晚点” (wǎn diǎn) means delayed.

There are multiple ways to buy the tickets. You can buy them online with a computer or using smartphone apps, or you can purchase them in person at any train station. Since this is a form of mass public transport, like air travel, you will need a passport (or for Chinese citizens, their ID) to buy the ticket.

Chinese citizens can pay for their tickets and show their ID at the gate, instead of picking up a ticket. For everyone else, if you buy them online, you will need to pick them up in advance from any train station; on the day is okay but better to go a few hours in advance in case the line is long, which is especially long and busy during national festivals like Golden Week or leading up to Chinese New Year. During these times, people all over China go through crazy mass migrations via any form or transport they can, and train tickets run out very quickly.

The ticket is printed when you go to pick it up and looks like the following:

Front:How to read a ticketThe back has terms and conditions in Chinese Hanyu:Train Ticket Back

Luggage Restrictions:
Like airports, there are weight restrictions on free carry on luggage, 20kg for adults and 10kg for children and the size must not exceed 160cm when the length, width and height is added together, any luggage that exceeds these limits must be checked-luggage.

Essential Info:
Make sure you are clear which train station you are departing from! Large cities like Shanghai and Nanjing have more than one station, and are named East, West, South, North or just the city’s name. For example, Shanghai Station is not the same as Shanghai Hong Qiao. I had friends who went to the wrong station and entirely missed their train. I am not sure what would happen if you get off at the wrong station, if someone has any experience please leave a comment and let us know!

The time on your ticket is the train departure time. You should go to the gate about 15 minutes before that time. is the official website for China’s rail and ticket purchase site. On the back of the ticket, it says for the fairness of all passengers, please do not use other websites to purchase or participate in last minute snatch deals.

When buying your ticket, you can choose from first or second class, and a cheaper ticket is if you are willing to go without a seat for your ride, on some trains.

When buying a ticket, the trains are categorised into high speed trains, fast trains and slow trains. I took 3 separate trips on the high speed train when I visited China in July 2016.

Trains are non-smoking.

Toilets are also onboard, there are squat toilets as well as seated toilets.

You can purchase food and drink onboard. The tickets I had were second class but they were not bad at all, in fact the seats are like airplane seats in that they are soft furnished and reclinable with fold out mini tray tables, but there is more leg room and large windows to view the scenery. Unfortunately it was raining during my trip from Nanjing to Shanghai.

See videos of the scenery from Nanjing to Shanghai here and here.

And now that you know how to use the train system, click here for more things to do and see in China!

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  1. you provide really good stuff for people to travel the train in China. Thank you for share your knowledge.
    Once I have entered the country, I would use to plan the train travel to find train schedule, ticket availability and etc.
    With such guide site like yours, the trip to China is very smooth.
    Thank you again!

    • Happy Traveller

      Hi! Thanks for your comment! I am glad my article helped! May I also recommend Ctrip, it has an English website as well as a smartphone app, where you can book flights and train tickets as well as hotels. While I have never booked anything with them, I find the app to be useful to find train times and types (fast or normal etc). It is a Chinese app and thus has all the cities in China listed so is more comprehensive than China train guide, I think. Just be aware if you do purchase through this service with a non-Chinese bank card, you might get charged an international transaction fee!
      Have a good time in China and if you will be writing about it on a blog, don’t forget to link it here!

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