If you think the holiday travel season is bad in the U.S., China has it much, much worse. On Monday, a small city’s worth of people were stranded at a train station in the southern part of the country, all of them desperate to get home for Chinese New Year celebrations.
To put the chaos in perspective, it’s important to understand that the Chinese New Year is a far, far busier travel season than our Thanksgiving and Christmas gridlock. For 40 days, beginning in late January, millions of Chinese will take three billion individual trips as they go home for the holidays beginning on February 8, BBC News noted. It is, in fact, the greatest human migration on Earth, the Guardian added.
And it has begun.
On Monday, migrants who work in the factories of the county’s manufacturing heartland around Guangzhou poured into the station, all of them heading to their homes in the country’s rural interior. Many were trying to get ahead of the crowds that usually come with the holiday festivities. According to the South China Morning Post, some arrived two days before their trip, worried they’d miss their train due to long lines.
But it wasn’t long lines that led 100,000 travelers to become stuck outside. The cause was bad weather.
The holiday is not just ushering in the Year of the Monkey but has brought freezing cold and a rare snow. Trains out of north and central China were delayed, leaving 100,000 Chinese stranded at the Guangzhou train station alone.
An estimated 23 trains were delayed and 176,000 passengers were estimated to pass through the railway on Monday. Instead of boarding a train, they found themselves waiting in and around the train station. The Yangtze River Delta, another migrant hub, saw 30,000 stranded at the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station; 50 were delayed by bad weather.
Naturally, local police were afraid that frustrated travelers would vent those frustrations out on each other, deploying 5,200 officers to keep the peace. Two officials — local police chief Xie Xiaodan and Chen Rugui, a senior Communist party leader — were also brought in to prevent rioting and stampedes.
Emergency measures were enforced, buses, taxis, and subways linked to the stations closed to keep more from entering, and passengers warned to check their travel details online rather than swam inside to wait with 100,000 others, worsening the already swelling crowd.
The authorities had reason to be concerned. Back in 2008, winter storms left 5.8 million travelers marooned during a travel rush. Delays led to some “scuffles (or worse)” among passengers, the Wall Street Journal added. So far, no reports of fisticuffs have surfaced this time.
Plenty of complaints and some jokes from travelers have, however.
“There are too many people and it is too crowded,” said one stranded passenger.
On Chinese Twitter, Weibo, one frustrated traveler said, “Just getting back home is so difficult. People have to stand in the rain for more than 10 hours.”
Another handled the situation with humor, quipping, “China is never short of people.”
Others complained of poor organization and that traveling this week was much more difficult than it was at this time in 2015. Long lines and confusion caused many to miss their trains.
After reaching its peak of 100,000 Monday night, half that number were still stranded by Tuesday, and 24 trains were still delayed. In Shanghai, the stranded 30,000 were still stuck.
In total, railway authority expects 332 million passengers this holiday season, or 13 percent more than last year.
[Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images]