Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

China stress as rush home begins

By Shirong Chen
BBC China Editor

Chinese policeman, Hefei train station, Anhui province
Authorities are trying to ease the pain

The Chinese authorities are trying to calm the fears of millions of railway travellers anxious to get home for the traditional Lunar New Year.

Ticket touts have been arrested, and freight traffic stopped to make way for more passenger services.

The Chinese Year of the Ox starts on 26 January this year.

It is a time when tens of millions of students, migrant workers and other travellers go home for the traditional family reunion.

Train ticket shortages are a recurring problem during the Chinese New Year.

Moving millions

The Chinese Railway Ministry estimates that 232 million people are seeking to travel by rail this year, but there is a shortfall of 44 million tickets due to limited capacity.

That is why travellers became enraged when they saw a video recording posted online of a Beijing ticket saleswoman printing more than 100 tickets.

The suspicion was that the saleswoman was selling tickets on the side - but it turned out she was simply preparing tickets for sale.

Deputy Rail Minister Wang Zhiguo nevertheless apologised for the misunderstanding, which he said had hurt the feelings of desperate travellers who had been queuing up for hours for tickets in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Chinese kid, Beijing train station
It is a mass migration of people

The authorities are anxious to avoid any situation which may lead to angry protests by travellers, many of them migrant workers already suffering a loss of income due to the worsening global financial crisis.

President Hu Jintao told the ministry to use their brains and take transparent measures to reduce the tension.

Freight traffic has been halted along many routes to make way for more passenger services.

Police have also detained more than 2000 alleged ticket touts.

With the travel peak predicted from today onwards, it will be an uphill struggle to get everybody home for the Chinese New Year.

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