The fast trains travel 1318 kilometres from Shanghai to Beijing at a top speed of 350 km/hour. Jenny and I left Shanghai’s Hongqiao railway station at bang on 11.05am and arrived in Beijing at 5pm, a bit later than the scheduled time of 4.18pm.
Though there’s more than 30 trains daily, we organised our tickets online through the Travel China website two days ahead to make sure we got first class tickets as these can sell out. They emailed a ‘pick up’ number for collecting the tickets (NZ$238 each) at the ticket office at the railway station. The Line 2 metro from near our hotel took us straight to Hongqiao station for 5Y (1$NZ) where we squeezed onto escalators to reach the fast train area.
The fast train waiting lounge is vast and crowded and long queues form at the 20-plus gates just before trains depart. It’s easy to work out which gate to leave from though and seats are allocated so there’s no hassle on board.
Our first class tickets gave us two seats together with lots of legroom and a snack. Third class carriages were fitted out like a busy cheap airline. The small business class section at the end of the train had solo lazyboy-type chairs. They may have had lunch included; we bought our tasty hot meal for 30Y ($5NZ) in the dining car.
The hazy view en route was a mix of many sets of tall apartment blocks and office buildings, highways, factories and fields of vegetables. Occasionally, a single person was working in a field or minding a small herd of sheep. It was tomb-sweeping day when we travelled and I saw one family tending to their ancestor’s grave. Closer to Beijing rows and rows of spindly trees were growing or dying, it was hard to tell. I found out later they would be part of an extensive planting programme to stop sandstorms.
The train stopped regularly at city stations. New passengers were sternly warned that the train police could punish anyone caught smoking. The train police looked busy enough flirting with the carriage attendants in the dining carriage.