From my limited experience, trains leave on time. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing: we missed the train yesterday by 2 minutes. 2 hours in lines and running all around 北京西站 (the Beijing West station), and we had another bunch for… tomorrow same time. So, we lost a day out of 2.5 that we had. Requires a good humor and unwillingness to ride “standing” for 5 hours. Yes, they have “standing” tickets. My point that we’re going to Shao Lin, where ppl can sleep standing on one hand and one arm, and so we should at least try, didn’t have much effect, so I guess so far we’re too wimpy to get enrolled.
To exchange a ticket, it takes: going to a station manager and getting his signature, staying in one line and getting a stamp on every ticket, then staying in another line to get a refund and then staying in yet another line to actually get the ticket. All in all, you lose 20% and about 2 hours, give or take. That’s if you know Mandarin. If you don’t – forget it. There’s exactly one “English speaking” counter, which is more of a consolation than help, considering how disappointed some laowais walked out of it.
Tickets don’t have names (unless it’s a holiday season) on them and are an excellent instrument on a black market for all transactions (all that is posted to be illegal, of course): you can buy tickets for more money, you can return unused tickets for less money or you can tip a guy to take you to the office of a station manager, a starting point of this bureaucratic wonder.
- Beijing has a bunch of railway stations. Names all start with 北京 (Beijing) and end with 站 (station). 北京西站 (西 for West) and 北京站 are indeed two different stations. Pay attention!
- Train names start with a letter. “G” means super-fast (330 kph) with very few stops, “D” means “fast” (150-200 kph). “Z” – a little bit slower, but still with very little stops (120 kph). Then go “K” and “T” and then those sad snail-speed ones without any letters.
- To get into the waiting hall of the station, you theoretically need a ticket. Or not – sometimes they just let people through without it. Or you can enter from the exit door. I wish we knew that…
- Waiting halls have a paid area (usually Y10 per person) where you have soft chairs and tables. Otherwise, you’ll usually end up standing and cold-smoked.
- Always allocate more time than you think you will need: there’re lines everywhere. In China, they like to make the crowds march around in a thin line, because that helps to keep things orderly and also, as we noticed, keeps people from making it to their trains in time.
- Even though 北京西站 doesn’t have its own subway station, there’s one about 10-15 minutes out north of it, completely walkable. However, it’s Line “Do you dare” 1 , which is always packed. Taking a taxi from the railway station is tricky: all those that are waiting, don’t want to use a meter and will rip you off 2-3x. There’s also a ton of buses coming to it from all directions. However, traffic gets worse closer to the station – plan ahead. There’s #374 going almost directly to it from BJW (MS office).
- If your train gets back to Beijing after 10pm, be sure to prepare yourself for this, as the last train on most sunbway lines leaves before 11pm, and the last bus leaves at around 10-11pm on most routes.