How to Take the Train in China


A quick guide on how to take China trains:

Step 1: Arrive at the railway station at least an hour in advance;

Step 2: Security check and ticket check at the station entrance;

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

Step 4: Check in and go to the platform for boarding.

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

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. Also note the departure date and time and set off early enough to be there on time. 
Blue Train Ticket Sample
Blue Magnetic Ticket
 See sample of Pink Paper Ticket  
 

Set Off for Railway Station


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

Stations in many large cities have been connected with subways and almost all stations can be reached by city bus and taxi.

 Railway Stations in China
 Useful Chinese Phrases for Train Travel
 

Enter the Station

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
You need go through security check before going inside (see baggage allowance). Your ticket and certificate used for ticket booking will also be checked here.
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, soft sleeper and high speed railway 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 printed on 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 three to five minutes for check-in.
 
There are LED screens by the boarding gates showing thecheck-in status.
Check In for Trains
Blue tickets can be checked automatically at the ticket check machines, while pink tickets need to be checked manually by staff. Keep your ticket after checking in and look after it well, as it will be checked during your trip and at the exit of the arrival station.
Check-in

Board the Train

After having the ticket checked, 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. Confirm with your ticket and LED screens to know 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. Sometimes staff is there to check your ticket and tell you the right carriage. At some stations, the carriage number is also marked on the platform, which helps to locate your carriage, too.
Board the Train
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. Keep your ticket well, it will be checked onboard and at the arrival station, too. If you hold a sleeper ticket, the staff will exchange it to a card after departure and give it back to you before you reach your destination. Look after it well, or you will pay for the loss or damage.

 Baggage Allowance and Transportation
 Luggage Space

Interior of a Train Carriage

Get off and 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. In some stations, blue ticket holders and pink ticket holders should use different exits. 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

How to transfer to another train

China train transfer passengers are advised to have paper tickets of the connecting journeys in hand before getting onboard at the starting station. When arriving at the transfer station, there is no need to get out of the station and then reenter. Holding the connecting tickets, 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, the ticket won't be valid for the balance of the trip.
 
 1. The announcements in the railway stations are broadcast in Chinese, but in some big cities like Xian, 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:
 Facts on China Train Travel - A Beginner's Guide
 Train Travel in China during Holidays
 Train Travel in China with Kids or during Pregnancy