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How to Take the Train in China

A quick guide on how to take China trains:

Step 1: Arrive at the railway station 1-1.5 hours in advance;

Step 2: Pass ID-ticket check and security check at the station entrance;

Step 3: Find the right waiting room and wait for boarding;

Step 4: Check in at the right boarding gate;

Step 5: Go to the platform for boarding;

Step 6: Settle the luggage and sit down to enjoy the trip;

Step 7: Upon arrival, get off and find the way out. 

Now let’s look into the steps in very detail.

Preparations Beforehand

1. Pay special attention to the departure station. Many cities in China have more than one station, so you need to make sure which one you should go to.  

2. Figure out your way to the railway station and time needed to get there from your place. Stations in many large cities have been connected with subways and almost all stations can be reached by city bus and taxi.

3. Passengers can now take China trains directly with their ID certificate used for booking ticket, like passport, saving trouble collecting the paper ticket. Just remember the train number, carriage number, seat number and other necessary information. For those who are not confident with your memory, please print out or write down the train information beforehand. Or you can spend  some time collecting your ticket upon arrival at the station. 

 Railway Stations in China
 Useful Chinese Phrases for Train Travel
 How to Collect China Train Ticket 

Get to Station 1-1.5H Earlier

Always make sure that you have  some extra time before the departure. Generally, it is recommended to arrive at the station 1 hour before the scheduled departure time. However, should you travel during the Spring Festival Travel Rush or holidays, you are advised to be 1.5 hours early.

Pass ID & Security Check

When reaching a station, you arrive at the square outside, in the basement or on the elevated motor way outside the hall. There are signs showing the entrances. If not, you can easily tell the station from other buildings by the continuous passenger flow.
Upon arriving at the station, follow the passenger flow or direction boards to find the entrance and wait in line to get inside.
Enter into Railway Station
Your ID certificate used for ticket booking will be checked at the entrance and overseas passengers should use the manual check channel. You will also need to go through security check before going inside (see baggage allowance)
Railway Security Check

Find the Right Waiting Room

In the entrance hall behind the security check there is a large LED screen showing train numbers and corresponding waiting rooms.
Train Station Entrance Hall
After finding the waiting room, wait in the specific area closest to the boarding gate of your train. Some stations may have special rooms/areas for soft seat and soft sleeper tickets holders. In addition, most stations have special waiting rooms/areas for pregnant women and passengers with small children, so that they can sit comfortably, and in most cases, get onboard before others.
Railway Station Waiting Room
In some newly-built stations there is only one large waiting hall, with several boarding gates. In this case, the boarding gate information will be told when you book the ticket.
Wait for Train Depature
The waiting rooms/halls are usually equipped with hot drinking water, toilets, restaurants, stores, book/news stands and information desk.
Railway Station Facilities

Check In

In most cases, check-in starts 30 minutes before departure and ends five minutes before in an originating station. If it is an intermediate station, there is only 10-15 minutes for check-in.
There are LED screens by the boarding gates showing thecheck-in status.
Check In for Trains
Your ID certificate used for ticket booking will be checked again at the boarding gate. Also, overseas passengers need to use the manual check channel.

Go to Platform & Onboard

After passing the boarding gate, walk with the flow of people or follow the LED boards to your platform. You may need to use stairs, for not all stations are equipped with escalators. In some large stations you can pay for the Red Cap Luggage Service. The porter will then carry your luggage to the platform, and you can follow him to board earlier.
Go to Platform
There may be two trains on the platform. Double confirm which one to board.
Railway Station Platform
After locating the train, find your carriage. The carriage number is shown by the door of the carriage. At some stations, the carriage number is also marked on the platform, which helps to locate your carriage, too.
Board the Train

Settle Luggage & Enjoy Trip

After boarding, find your seat/sleeper. Put your luggage safely on the luggage rack, under your seat/berth, or inside the closet between two carriages. Sit down for the departure.

 Baggage Allowance and Transportation
 Luggage Space

Interior of a Train Carriage

Get off & Find the Way out

In most stations, arriving passengers will be led to the exit by an underground passage. Red Cap Luggage Service is also available for arriving passengers in some large stations.
Exit the Railway Station
Follow the bilingual direction boards to find exit/subway/bus/taxi/coach to leave the station. You need to show your ID certificate again at the manual channel of the exit to leave. If you are picked up by a friend or your tour guide, make sure you know where they will wait for you, as some stations have more than one exit.
Exit the Railway Station

Transfer to another train

When arriving at the transfer station, there is no need to get out of the station and then reenter. One can follow the direction boards to waiting hall/room directly, and then find the boarding gate for the connecting train.

Through passengers should not get off leisurely between the starting station and the destination, as the train only stops a few minutes at most intermediate stations. If you unfortunately miss your train, extra pay will be asked for the following trip.
Direction Sign for Train Transfer

 1. The announcements in the railway stations are broadcast in Chinese, but in some big cities like Xi'an, Beijing and Shanghai, they are also broadcasted in English, and bilingual signs in both Chinese and English will be helpful.
2. Trains stop at stations just long enough for people to get on and off. For that reason it is wise not to get off during your journey for any reason as it may well leave before you can get back on board.
3. Most overnight trains have a dining car where you can purchase a meal. There are also trolleys service selling items of food, drink, snacks, magazines and other small items, regularly goes back and forth through the aisles during a journey.
4. Be prepared to cope with the crowds and some inconvenience, rail travel in China is a cultural experience to be enjoyed; it is bound to be memorable!
5. Be careful to guard against theft. Keep your luggage safe and take the valuable items in your carry-on bags rather than in the suitcases.
6. Never give personal information to strangers.
7. Avoid using public phones near the station, as some of the owner will play tricks on the phone in order to ask for more money.
8. Never accept food or drinks given by a stranger.  

Further Reading:
 China Train Travel - A Beginner’s Guide
 Facts on China Train Travel
 Train Travel in China during Holidays
 Train Travel in China with Kids or during Pregnancy
- Last updated on Dec. 13, 2022 -
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