Travel by Train in China – Part I

Railway is the “standard” travel options for normal people in China. Richer (minority) people travel by air and short distance traveler go by bus; the rest typically take trains.

For transition passengers in Shanghai, to take train maybe an option if the destination is near. I’d like to devote some time on the train system in China. I hope this guide will be helpful to visitors who want to use railway.

Types of Seats/Sleepers

There are several times of seats. The most basic is the hard seat, soft seat, and hard sleeper, soft sleeper. I know the translation is quite confusing but I couldn’t found a better one. Someone asked me “How difficult are the hard seats?” It is amusing. Actually, hard seat is not completely wooden. It feels soft when you touch it.

Typically, “hard seat” cars have 10 persons in a cubicle, 6 on the left and 4 on the right.

====    ==

|o o o    o o|

|o o o    o o|

====    ==

| is window

= is back of seats

o is seats.

There are about 100 – 120 passenger seats in one train cart.

The Trip

Bryan Tutt’s A Hard Seat Train is a vivid description about what a crowded “hard seat” train is. Fortunately, it should be the experience of several years ago. Now the train are getting better, faster with fewer people. The train has been upgraded to new models with better equipment. If you travel from Shanghai to nearby cities, like Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Zhenjiang, Changzhou, the train are more likely to be the newest and most advanced model. If you travel to Beijing, the train from Shanghai to Beijing are among the best in China.

Train Stations in Shanghai

In Shanghai, there are two train stations – the Shanghai Railway Station and Shanghai Southern Railway Station. Most of trains will start and arrive at Shanghai Railway Station except those to Zhejiang and southern provinces. Always check where the railway station you need to go to. The Shanghai Southern Railway Station will be expanded to as large as Shanghai Railway Station and the construction is undergoing at the time when this article is posted. There are 12 stops in Metro Line #1 between the two stations.

To be continued

38 thoughts on “Travel by Train in China – Part I

  1. I took some trains in China (Shanghai -> Nanjing, Nanjing -> Suzhou, Suzhou -> Shanghai) and can confirm that the hard seats are not really hard at all (on that railway, anyway). The hard seats I tried in China are like a slightly crowded version of Western trains (USA or western Europe). In Vietnam, however, it’s a different story…

    As for vivid descriptions of Chinese trains I can highly recommend Paul Theroux’ “Riding the Iron Rooster”. It’s from the late 80s, and so the trains are no longer the same, but the book is such a pleasure to read it hardly matters.

  2. Oh, and Steven: when I took the train, the travel time Shanghai -> Nanjing was 4 hours. This was the fastest train we could find. I recommend you show up early for the train in Shanghai, as the station is vast, crowded, and you have to go through a security check. To find the train, knowing two things are useful: 1) that there is a separate waiting hall for each platform, and 2) the number of the train you are taking. Once you’ve got those two it’s easy.

  3. Stephen,

    You can find the information from if you can read Chinese.

    Below are the lines that I prefer:

    Shanghai -> Nanjing

    T714 08:00AM –10:50AM 2 hours 50 mins 47.00RMB (Hard Seat) 72.00RMB (Soft Seat)

    T722 09:00AM –11:58AM 2 hours 58 mins 47.00RMB (Hard Seat) 72.00RMB (Soft Seat)

    T734 12:30AM –3:39AM 3 hours 9 mins 72.00RMB (Soft Seat)

    (T712, T736, T726, T724, T116 are also optional, according to your time)


    T721 2:46PM –5:42PM 2 hours 56 mins 47.00RMB (Hard Seat) 72.00RMB (Soft Seat)

    T715 3:30PM –6:46PM 3 hours 16 mins 47.00RMB (Hard Seat) 72.00RMB (Soft Seat)

    (T703, T731, T723 are also optional)

    Even the hard seat is not that “hard” at all, I personally still prefer soft seat because of the cleaner environment. And hard seat carts are much more crowded than the soft carts during the weekends.

  4. Hi I’m looking for family to stay with in shanghai so i can quickly learn mandarin.If possible close to the centre and cheap.My e-mail is

    If anyone knows a family who can please contact me.

    Also looking for lessons of mandarin.


  5. Thanks xuebin for the excellent information.

    Can you please tell me Huenshen (Yellow Mountain) is at the vicinity of Nanjing, would it be possible to visit without guided tour and how is the accommodation facility at the region.

    The train from Shanghai, do they have non-smoking section?

    Please advise!



    These two articles may be of help. The train from Shanghai to Huang Shan (or Huenshen in your post) is for the different direction than the one to Nanjing. You can take a special train to Huang Shan.

    Please refer to the first article I posted for more information about the train to Huangshan. Here is quoted from the article. It is a good bet that if you want any information on Shanghai and around Shanghai and places near Shanghai and if you are patient enough to use search ( ), you may find some information I wrote before.




    I took train K818/K819 from Shanghai to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) Station. The train left Shanghai at 20:05 and arrived around 7:00 AM. It is very nice arrangement since you can sleep on the train and begin your tour to the amazing county immediately after you get off the train. One tip you need to remember is, the train numbers K818 and K819 are referring to the same train. According to the train numbering convention, all trains leaving Beijing are numbered with odd number and trains going to the direction of Beijing are numbered with even number. However, the train from Shanghai to Huang Shan will first goes northwest, making it moving close to Beijing (it is numbered K818 at that range). After it passes Nanjing, it will move southwest toward the direction away from Beijing. So on that range of railway, it is called K819.

    The returning train is numbered with the same rule – K820/K817. It leaves Huang Shan around 20:00 and arrives Shanghai at 7:00 AM next day. If you are curious about the meaning of K, I can tell you it means Kuai in Chinese or Express Train in English.


    If you go to the villages I visited, please don’t expect any modern hotels there. However, it is a great experience to stay for one night or two in the accident houses that were built carefully 300-400 years ago.

    Remember this door I showed yesterday?

  7. If you leave large cities like Shanghai and visit the small places, you need to be prepared for the relatively poor living condition. On the top of Huang Shan, there are some very nice hotel, but it is expensive. At the foot of Huang Shan, there are many very small inns but it is not as clean as those bigger hotels.

  8. Stephen, you may have to use squat style toilet stalls, detached. Prepare change for tipping there, even your own toilet tissues maybe.

  9. Good tip, bigbro

    Always bring your own soft tissues in the backpack – the rough grey paper will shred your a…… to blood, especially if you’re having a serious diarrhea !

    And always remember to have some small coins in the pocket.

    Not only in the provinces, it’s the same situation in Shanghai…

    “Chinese stomach” takes a lifetime to achieve for foreigners !

    (Most chinese have the same experiences, but will never admit it is from the chinese food :-)

    About crowding in these National Holiday times- the sometime crowded situation of most chinese transportation can be useful to learn knowing people sometimes.

    In fact that was the reason that me and my “personal guide” Xiuying had a “closeup meeting” on one of the trips where she had no choice to sit on top of my legs in the bus, and that was so pleasant for both of us, that we had to try that again :-)

    Now we have tried it for 2½ years, me and my qingaide, and it’s still good !

  10. Thank you all for the information,

    I don’t think my knee is strong enough to perform that task and I am thinking seriously to strike Huang Shan from my visiting list.

    By the way, how expensive is the hotel at the peak?


  11. Mr. Wang

    My local camping store can supply me with disposable toilet and is light to carry.

    Please tell me how far is the peak from the train station and is the path all elevated. Is there a cable car connecting the mountain side?

    Appreciate you advise.


  12. I have been told that a new & fast train service from Shanghai to Ningbo has come into service. I hope someone has the information about its schedule. Any forthcoming?


  13. I live in Hochiminh City in Vietnam. I want to travel to Huangshan by train. How can i do?

  14. you can come to shanghai city,then go to huangshan.

    shanghai have many airplane and train to huangshan.

    I come from Anhui province.hangshan is in Anhui province.


  15. hello….

    im planning to visit china this october and would like to know if here are trains from Beijing to Xian and from Xian to Shanghai…..and how long does it takes….

    thanks a lot!!!!

  16. Do u kno where can I bookor buy a train ticket travel from Shanghai to Beijing? Is there any website? do I need to make a reservation in advance`?

    Please help me. Thanks

  17. Can you post some info on traveling to Shanghai from Hefei Anhui? I want to take the train with my 6 year old daughter from there to Shanghai. I am also searching for a nice reasonably cheap priced hotel. I have been recommended Anqing Hotel but cannot find the website for it or any info online about it. Also how would I hire a porter to help me with my luggage from the train station to getting a taxi to my hotel? Thanks! Looking forward to my visit on July 21, 22 ’06

  18. We are planning to take the train from Beijing to Xi’an, spend the day doing stuff and then that night, take the train from Xi’an to Shanghai. Is there anywhere at Xi’an that we can leave our suit cases??

  19. We are planning to go to Beijing June 12, 2007. We would like to travel to Shanghi from Beijing by train on June 19th. How long is the train ride and how much in US $ does it cost? We would also like to travel from Shanghi to Ningbo. How long does it take by train and what is the cost? Is it feasible to travel by train to Hong Kong and again, how long would it take and what is the cost? Thank you, Trisha

  20. Hi Mr. Wang,

    Are there luggage lockers at Shanghai Railway Station? My family will be arriving from Huangshan early morning and we want to sight-see before departing for Putong Airport in the evening. Should we park our luggage at the railway station or at Putong Airport instead? Thanks

  21. I would say Pudong Airport is much better option because:

    1. You can control your time better if you park there. The maglev is only 8 minutes to Metro Line #2. To go to Pudong Airport via South Station is too hurry.

    2. There are good service about luggage keeping in Pudong Airport, and I don’t think if there are any in South Station (I assume there should be this service, but I didn’t see).

  22. I am planning to visit Ningbo, China. I will be flying to Shanghai. Could you please help me with travel plan from Shanghai to Ningbo. I need to know how to get to train station from Shanghai airport and how to buy train ticket in advance. Or is it better to take the bus.

    Thank you very much for your help!

  23. Our group (17 people, all USA nationals) tried to purchase tickets through a ticket agent 8 days prior to departure (from Guangzhou to Guilin) but was told that there were no more soft sleeper tickets available. Is there a way to reserve train tickets?

    Thank you very much in advance for your assistance.

  24. Hello,

    would you pls let me know what is the fastest train number, time table and fare for going to Shanghai to Xian and come back on November, 2007.

    Thanks in advance for your reply. Pls reply me to my email add: S,


  25. Hello,

    would you pls let me know what is the fastest train number, time table and fare for going to Shanghai to Xian and come back on November, 2007.

    Thanks in advance for your reply. Pls reply me to my email add: S,


  26. what is the fastest train number, time table and fare for going to Shanghai to Xian and come back on November, 2007. How to arrive Shanghai railway station from Shanghai airport.Sorry my email add:

  27. Hi , I am travelling from nanjing to suzhou, the to hangzhou then to shanghai in Jan 08. Please help me with train info and bookings for this routes? How do I book beforehand ? On line ?



  28. Hi , I am travelling from nanjing to suzhou, the to hangzhou then to shanghai in Jan 08. Please help me with train info and bookings for this routes? How do I book beforehand ? On line ?



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