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How to Choose China Train Ticket Types?

China train ticket types can be classified into:

On bullet/ high speed trains (C, D, G trains): first class seat, second class seat, business class seat, VIP seat, soft sleeper, deluxe soft sleeper, new type sleepers;

On non-bullet trains (Z, T, K, Y, K, S types): hard sleeper, soft sleeper, deluxe soft sleeper, hard seat, soft seat

First class seats and second class seats on China trains are the first choice for a trip less than five hours, while sleepers are highly recommended for a long or overnight journey.

Bullet Train
Identified by the letters G/D/C plus several digits and usually in white or grey with bullet-like locomotives, the high speed types are fast, clean, well-equipped like an airplane and run more smoothly. They are the first choice of most passengers. But most of them do not run overnight and the price is generally higher than the normal type.

Seat Classes on High Speed Trains

Bullet trains are usually divided into 7 classes. Among them, second class has five seats in a row; first class has four seats, while VIP class and business class have three seats in a row.

There are sleeper classes available on a few overnight D types: the soft sleeper class has four bunks in a compartment, while the deluxe soft sleeper has two bunks. Also, the new type sleepers with bunks arranged towards the train's moving direction.
Second Class Seats have five seats in a row, three on one side of the aisle and two on the other side. The seats are like those in economy class on an airplane. The backrest can be adjusted to a comfortable angle and has a small, foldable table attached. The seats can be rotated so all passengers can sit facing forward. The seats in other classes also have this feature. Second Class ticket price is the lowest among all high speed classes, so it is the most popular and most frequently used.
Second Class Seat
First Class Seats on C, D or G trains have four seats in a row, two on each side of the aisle. They are wider and softer than in second class. With a small pillow and a foldable footrest, they offer a more comfortable experience. The ticket fare is about 20% to 40% higher than second class.

First Class vs. Second Class

First Class Seat
C, D or G train Business Class Seats are the equivalent of first class on an airplane and are only available on G and some D types. There are two sofa-like seats on one side and one on the other side. The seats can be adjusted flat for passengers to lie down. The fare is the highest- about twice that of first class.
Business Class Seat
Second Class Seat First Class Seat
Business Class Seat Seats Difference

VIP Seat

They are available on G and certain D types. They are as comfortable as those in the first class carriages, with two on one side and one on the other. The fare is higher than the first class and about twice of the second class. Besides the above seats, there are Soft Sleepers and Deluxe Soft Sleepers on a few overnight D trains.

They can only be seen on some long-distance D trains running overnight. There are three types of them: soft sleepers in traditional style with two double-deck berths in a private cabin with a sliding lockable door; deluxe soft sleepers with two berths, an independent toilet and a lockable door; new style sleepers arranged in accordance with the train's running direction without door but a curtain for each berth.

This is a kind of prepaid card used for taking some high speed trains. There are two kinds of them, one without discount applicable widely and one with discount only applicable to Beijing-Tianjin Inter-city High Speed Railway. Both have two types, golden pass for taking first class seat and silver pass for second class seat.

Normal Trains
China Z Train

Usually colored blue, red or green, they are identified by Z/T/K/L/Y/S plus digits or just several digits without letters. They run at a lower speed than high speed types, but they run day and night. The facilities are generally of a lower standard, e.g. the toilets are mostly squatting ones. With relatively lower prices, they are often the choice of  budget travelers, especially overnight trains for the purpose of saving daytime and hotel expense.

Seat Classes on Normal Trains

The hard or soft sleepers are great for overnight or long-time travel, while the hard or soft seats are acceptable for a short trip.

Try to avoid traveling by a seat during peak seasons like the Chinese New Year and the National Day Holiday, for the seat carriages are overcrowded.

A Hard Sleeper compartment usually comprises six berths arranged in three levels on the two sides. As the compartments lack doors, it is hard to have a good sleep due to continuous snores, kids’ crying, and the sound of the train moving. The fare is about twice as much as a hard seat.
Hard Sleeper
Like those on the high speed D type, a Soft Sleeper compartment consists of two upper and two lower berths. The berths are wider than the hard sleepers. More importantly, each compartment has a door. The fare is about 50% higher than the hard sleeper.

Soft Sleeper vs. Hard Sleeper

Soft Sleeper
There are two bunks on one side of the compartment, and a leisure area with a sofa and an independent western style toilet. The fare is about twice that of a soft sleeper. They are only available on some long-distance trips between major cities. Some overnight D trains also have luxuty soft sleepers.
Luxury Soft Sleeper
Hard Seat is the cheapest among all classes. As the name implies, it can be something of an ordeal, especially for a long journey. Not only are the seats hard, the seat backs are almost vertical and cannot be adjusted. The carriages are always noisy, smelly, and crowded with non-seat passengers, especially during peak seasons. There are five seats in a row, two on one side and three on the other side. A small table is set between every two opposite rows.
Hard Seat
Soft seats are only available on a few trains. There are four seats in a row with two on both sides. The seats are cushioned and softer. The fare is about 1.5 times of a hard seat.
Soft Seat

Special Ticket Types

Standing Room Tickets

Standing Room Tickets are issued only after all the above tickets are sold out. Passengers holding these tickets are only allowed in the hard seat carriages, standing along the aisle or at the end of a carriage. The fare is the same as that of a hard seat.

Child Tickets

1. Children under 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) and accompanied by an adult can travel for free. They do not have their own seat or bunk but share one with the adult. However, if a seat is required, it can be purchased at half the full fare; whereas that of a hard/soft sleeper is the full price minus half of the hard/soft seat fare (about 75% of the full price).

If there are two or more children under 3.9 feet in height, only one child enjoys a free ride and the others have to pay for child tickets.

2. Children between 3.9 feet and 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) have to pay. The fare for a seat is half of the full fare and the child has his/her own seat. If the child takes a hard/soft sleeper and shares a bunk with the adult, the fare is still half of the hard/soft seat. However, to have his/her own bunk, the fare will be the full fare of the hard/soft sleeper minus half the fare of the hard/soft seat (about 75% of the full price).

Height Chart for Children
Height Chart for Children
Platform Ticket Counter
Platform Ticket Counter

Student Tickets

These are only for Chinese college students. Foreign students cannot buy them.

Platform Tickets

Platform tickets are for people seeing off or picking up friends and relatives and costs CNY 1 - 2. However, to reduce congestion and ensure safety, many stations have stopped selling platform tickets. Instead, a card will be issued only to those really in need.

 Note: The above introductions do not apply to international trains from/ to China.

China Train Types


Top Speed


High Speed Type
350 km/h (217 mph) Fastest of all;
Run long distances between large cities;
250 km/h (155 mph) Run for long / middle distances;
A few run overnight.
200 km/h (124 mph ) Run for short distances between two nearby cities.
Normal Type
Z - Direct Express 160 km/h (99 mph) Run directly to destinations none stop or with a few stops at large stations.
T - Express 140 km/h (87 mph) Limited stops at large stations.
K - Fast 120 km/h (75 mph) More stops at middle and large stations.
Ordinary Fast 120 km/h (75 mph) Identified with four digits starting with 1, 2, 4 or 5;
Stop frequently along the way.
Ordinary 100 km/h (62 mph) Indentified with four digits beginning with 6, 7, 8 or 9;
Stop at almost every station along the way.
L - Temporary 100 km/h (62 mph) Operate only during the peak travel time, such as Chinese New Year and National Holiday;
Great possibility of delays.
Y - Tourism 100 km/h (62 mph) Usually run during peak travel seasons;
Destinations are popular tourism cities.
S - Suburban 100 km/h (62 mph) Used for commuting between the city center and the suburban area in some cities.
Steam Train 20 km/h (12.4 mph)  Powered by steam engine;
Available only in mountainous area of Jiayang Mining Region in Leshan, Sichuan.

 Further Reading:

China Train Travel - A Beginner’s Guide

How to Buy Train Tickets

How to Buy Tickets Online

How to Collect Tickets

How to Read Tickets

How to Refund Tickets

How to Change Tickets

What to Do if Lost Tickets

Useful Chinese Phrases for Train Travel

- Last modified on Dec. 12, 2018 -
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