Many years ago, I travelled with my family through the most astonishing rivers, mountains and villages in China, by trains. Although these trains were old-fashioned and sometimes smelly compared to recent modern and comfortable high-speed trains, however it’s enjoyable to hear the sound of mechanical contacts between wheels and gaps of railway tracks, combined with the siren – it’s a fascinating symphony, a very special memory that I can still recall today.
It’s noticed that the Chinese railway industry has been heavily invested in recent years for upgrading and re-constructing its aged, inefficient, and overcrowded passenger railway network. This improvement immediately benefited railway passengers by providing: 1) new routes with more frequent services; 2) upgraded K/T/Z trains and new high-speed D/G trains (K train: KuaiSu/快速; T train: TeKuai/特快; Z train: ZhiDaTeKuai/直达特快; D train: DongChe/动车; G train: GaoTie/高铁); 3) new train stations with improved facility and capacity.
As today’s train can run faster with more frequent services than ever before, people can be connected with each other more closely and easily by saving their journey times radically from 12+ hours in the past to less than 5 hours in present D/G trains. Existing K/T/Z trains are still in a good operation with reduced services, provides an alternative selection for passengers with a relative longer journey time but a much cheaper fare (compared to high-speed D/G trains).
There’re as much as 26 services provided for trains from Shenzhen to Wuhan each day, includes 21 G services, 3 K services (K556/K238/K1092), 1 T service (T96) and 1 Z service (Z24). T96 and Z24 are characterized for the service “dusk-to-dawn” (夕发朝至) as the train departs in the evening and arrives at the destination in the next morning – this has been widely accepted by both leisure and business travelers for saving both day time and budget.
The journey began with a 18:05 service from Shenzhen to Wuchang, Wuhan. This non-stop Z24 service was operated by Wuhan Passenger Segment of Wuhan Railway Bureau (武局武段), using air conditioning 25T sleeper carriages towed by a Shaoshan 9 (SS9) electric locomotive. The top speed for a Z service can be reached to 160 KPH (or 100 MPH), made the total journey time 12 hours 15 minutes.
Train tickets can be bought online at 12306.cn, or purchased in person at the train station in advance of the journey (in particular if you’re a foreigner). This non-stop Z24 service from Shenzhen terminates at Wuchang (part of Wuhan city) only (Fig. 1), passengers to Hankou and Hanyang are advised to use public transport such as metro or bus services to the final destination.
Fig. 1: My train ticket for Z24 service from Shenzhen to Wuchang.
I arrived at Shenzhen train station at approximately 17:35. It took about 2 minutes to pass through ticket & security checks, so left me a plenty of time to buy my favourite newspapers and magazines. (N.B. The platform will be closed 10 minutes before departure time)
My hard berth located in sleeper carriage 11, it’s in the middle of a three-story berth (Fig. 2). It’s noted that passengers on board are required to have their train tickets changed for berth cards (Fig. 3) after the departure, and their tickets will be returned back later before the arrival (Please have your ticket ready for inspection at the exit). Luggage can be placed either underneath of the bottom berth or in an overhead storage just next to the top berth. On 18:05, the train departed on time, I sat on a foldable chair next to my berth (Fig. 4), started to read newspapers and magazines I bought at the train station.
Fig. 2: A three-story berth.
Fig. 3: Berth card.
Fig. 4: Corridor with foldable chairs (in folded position).
All main lights of sleeper carriages in this service were switched off at 22:00. But it’s still too early to sleep at that time, so I climbed up to my berth, lay down, switched on my bedlight (the brightness of the light is adjustable) and continued my reading till the mid-night. I woke up at around 05:00 in the next morning, refreshed myself (Fig. 5) and sat quietly on a foldable chair till the train arrived on time at Wuchang station at 06:20 (Fig. 6).
Fig. 5: Washing basins are located at the rear of the sleeper carriage.
Fig. 6: Z24 arrived at Wuchang on time in the morning.
Pro and Con
A much lower price is an immediate advantage for taking this standard train service. Take this Z24 service for example, the price for my hard berth costed only a half (RMB ¥270.5 or GBP £28) of that for a 2nd class seat in high-speed G service (G78, a typical high-speed service operates in this route, RMB ¥538 or GBP £56). Although Z24 took about 3 times longer than a G78 service from Shenzhen to Wuhan, however as I was not in a hurry, so purchasing a high-speed G train ticket was not really necessary.
As a non-smoker, it’s a bit unpleasant and sometimes annoying to smell cigarettes within an enclosed environment. Despite smoking is strictly forbidden at anywhere inside air conditioning carriages of this train service, smokers however, were still traced at the connection area between two carriages. This smelly air then mixed with some weak smells from the toilet, breathed by passengers through their clothes and skins – which is probably a nightmare of travelling with a standard train service in China.