Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

China's holiday rush begins early

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Beijing West Railway Station
Extra ticket booths have been opened to cope with the rush

China's annual travel rush over the Lunar New Year has begun early this year, partly due to the country's economic woes.

City railway stations are reporting more passengers than usual as migrant workers head for their rural homes.

The early exodus is in part down to the current economic slowdown - with no jobs, workers have no choice but to go home.

It is also because the spring festival is earlier than usual this year.

Each day, tens of thousands of passengers pass through the vast waiting halls at Beijing's West Railway Station.

The station handled 130,000 departing passengers one day recently, about 38,000 more than the usual daily average, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

No more job

Dozens of temporary ticket booths have been opened in the station forecourt to cope with the new-year rush.

Some of those passing through the station, like Li Hengru, are heading home early for the holiday on 26 January because they have lost their jobs.

Li Dongxiao
Business is not good. It's probably down to the financial crisis
Li Dongxiao
"There's no more work for me at my factory. I've lost my job and if I stayed here, I would have to rely on my savings to survive," said the 43-year-old from Anhui province.

The economic slowdown has even affected the photograph business that operates in front of the station.

For just 10 yuan ($1.50; 1), migrant workers can get their pictures taken in front of the station's main hall, but business lately has been poor.

"I'm only getting about a dozen customers a day. But when it's busy, I usually have more than 20," said Li Dongxiao, who works for the photographic firm.

"Business is not good. It's probably down to the financial crisis," added the 18-year-old.

It is the same story at other major railway stations across the country.

Migrant workers have been travelling home through Guangzhou Railway Station for several weeks now.

Some of these have lost their jobs, others left their jobs earlier than usually because work has slowed down as factory orders slump.

Chinese Central Television reported that the station's ticketing system temporarily crashed because so many people were buying tickets.

The Chinese new-year exodus is the world's largest annual migration.

China's railway network is expected to handle about 188 million passengers this year, 8% up on last year, according to the Ministry of Railways.

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