Since coming to China, I have found traveling by train extremely convenient, and I am more than satisfied. In a country full of bureaucratic difficulties, it was such a pleasant surprise to find out how easy it was to go traveling. With a super streamlined online ticket purchasing system, train stations located at city centers, immaculately maintained stations, all at a good price, I got to hand it to China. I have been extolling the virtues of taking the train for years now, but until I came here I had no idea that train travel could be so fantastic.
You average train trip looks like this:
1. Purchase your ticket about two to three days in advance online or at the station. Foreigners are allowed to sign up for web ticketing service! www.12306.cn
2. Arrive at the station about an hour ahead of time to pick up your tickets.
3. Head to security check, should take a grand total of 2 minutes
4. Board the train, stow your luggage. Note that there is NO limit to the size or weight of your luggage!
5. Chill out until you arrive at your destination!
(disregard all of these rules if you are traveling during Chinese holidays, see article on Xichang)
This process is infinitely more simple that taking an airplane and has usually resulted in much less headache. I have only heard of a train being delayed once from all of my friends, as opposed to flying, where delays have seemed to me to be more of a rule than an exception. Also, as someone who moves around a lot, this unlimited luggage policy is really attractive.
Here in southwestern China, things go at a slower pace. Up in the more developed areas, there are regularly scheduled "D" trains, its speed only second to the "G" train, "gaotie" 高铁, meaning "high-speed rail." These trains are AMAZING- you can get from Beijing to Guangzhou in EIGHT HOURS, and costs about $150 USD. 1300 miles apart, thats like going from California to Kansas. I'm am just absolutely tickled when I think about it. They are hoping to extend high-speed rail service to Kunming by 2016, but for now we will have to be placated with th"T" for "tekuai" 特快 or "extra fast" and the "K" train, standing for "kuai" 快 meaning "Fast." These are glaring misnomers, as these trains are incredibly slow. But even though it takes 8 hours to get to the next cool city, they are still more convenient than flying.
I still am unable to understand why America has yet to understand the value of train travel. The last time I drove from San Francisco to Sacramento it took 4 1/2 HOURS. There is clearly no reason for this! I know that there is a rail line in this region, but archaically slow speeds coupled with stupidly expensive pricing makes people who own cars unwilling to use it. Imagine a world with no traffic and low risks for collisions. You just sit back and relax, unconcerned with any of the classic problems plaguing road or air travel. You guys, a well thought out train system is absolutely fabulous.
California is making baby steps towards getting a north-south rail, and there are plans to expand on a national level. I think it would be a valuable means of transportation in the US, and I encourage people to support development in this sector. Just seriously: trains are awesome.