Boarding a bullet train in China: All questions answered
Khushboo Razdan
["china"]
China is home to the world's longest high-speed railway network. Spanning across 29,000 kilometers, it accounts for more than two-thirds of the total global high-speed railway network. So, as a curious foreigner who's recently moved to China, I decided to travel to Tianjin, a 30-minute train ride from Beijing South Railway Station – which itself is one of Asia's biggest. 
To get there, I decided to take the subway since it's pocket-friendly and convenient. Beijing South Railway Station is located on both Line 4 and Line 14 of Beijing subway. In less than 30 minutes I had gained a hassle-free entry into the railway station. At first I was overwhelmed by its size, which is as big as 70 football grounds, covering an area of almost 500,000 square meters. But size is not the only feature that makes it unique.
A composite photo of different views of Beijing South Railway Station, one of the largest railway stations in Asia. /VCG Photo

A composite photo of different views of Beijing South Railway Station, one of the largest railway stations in Asia. /VCG Photo

Since it was a spontaneous travel, I still had to buy my tickets. And the first thing that caught my attention was an automatic ticketing machine. I saw people buying and collecting tickets in less than a minute using their ID cards. However, my attempt to use one of those machines was not successful. When I inquired, I was told that this facility is not available for international travelers since foreign passports are not part of the local database. One of the station staffers then guided me to a ticket counter where she arranged an English-speaking officer who helped me buy a ticket to Tianjin.
An automatic ticket counter at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo 

An automatic ticket counter at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo 

But if you are planning in advance, you can also buy your ticket online. Currently, the official railway website is only available in Chinese, but "an English version is expected to be launched soon," on-duty officer Zheng Siyao told CGTN Digital. So for now, the best way for foreigners to buy the tickets is via third-party portals like Ctrip or local travel agents. Bookings generally start a month in advance for popular destinations. However, you will still have to collect your tickets from any railway station in the city before your travel date.
Once I had my ticket, I had plenty of time to look around. Sprawling shopping complexes and numerous restaurants would give any international airport a run for its money. There are several giant LED screens all over the station displaying important travel information – both in Chinese and English – like the status of your train, platform number, checkpoints and the exact time of departure.
About 400 bullet trains operate from Beijing South Railway Station every day. /VCG Photos

About 400 bullet trains operate from Beijing South Railway Station every day. /VCG Photos

After charging my phone at one of the many charging points, I went on to catch a glimpse of the business-class waiting areas. These luxury lounges serve delicious food and are a perfect place to relax. They also have English-speaking staff members who guide passengers if they need any extra information. No worries even if you fall asleep on the super comfy sofas, the staff will also wake you up before the boarding time.
A business-class waiting area at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

A business-class waiting area at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

I met a few foreigners at the station who were also at complete ease. "I didn't face any problem. Finding my train details wasn't an issue," said a traveler from Serbia. Another passenger from Boston, the U.S., said, "Though I have come with a group, I didn't face any problem at all. The railway station is convenient and user-friendly."
A foreign tourist gives a thumbs-up to the services at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

A foreign tourist gives a thumbs-up to the services at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

Another facility definitely worth mentioning is the child and elderly care centers near regular waiting areas. This place is ideal for kids, nursing mothers, elderly and passengers with special needs. These centers offer emergency medical services, playing zones for kids, and wheelchairs. And more importantly, services here are absolutely free for both local and international travelers.
A composite photo of the child and elderly care center at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

A composite photo of the child and elderly care center at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

As part of China's toilet revolution campaign, the station has built about 100 new women restrooms, 72 more than the number available for men. Special disabled-friendly and mother-and-children-friendly toilets have also been newly built and a member of the station staff is commissioned for assisting passengers.
Automatic disabled-friendly restrooms at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

Automatic disabled-friendly restrooms at Beijing South Railway Station, Beijing, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

Soon it was time to head toward the platform and board the train. There are different ways to reach the platform. First, if you are running late and less than 30 minutes are left for your train's departure, you can take the express entrance from basement level two. On average, over 29,000 passengers use express entrance service daily, which is around 20 percent of the total 130,000 passengers. This also helps in managing the crowd at the station, especially during holiday seasons when the number of travelers increases manifold.  
AI-equipped facial recognition checkpoints are currently available only for Chinese citizens. /CGTN Photo

AI-equipped facial recognition checkpoints are currently available only for Chinese citizens. /CGTN Photo

The second and the most high-tech passage is the AI-equipped facial recognition checkpoint. Just scan your face and move on. However, this service is also limited to Chinese nationals and I had to present my passport and ticket, which was not very time-consuming.
Finally, I boarded my train which looked nothing less than an airplane from inside. These trains have onboard stewards to help passengers with important travel information, serve food and ensuring a smooth journey.
A  stewardess at the food and beverage counter inside a bullet train, Beijing South Railway Station, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

A  stewardess at the food and beverage counter inside a bullet train, Beijing South Railway Station, May 9, 2019. /CGTN Photo

Now I can confidently say that boarding a bullet train in China is cheap, easy, high-tech and super comfortable. Don't worry if it's your first time, just grab your passport, pack your bags and show up.