China Train Travel: A 36-Hour, Long-Distance Journey Between Beijing And Kunming

02/20/2013 08:52am ET
A steward offers snacks from a trolley to Lunar New Year travellers aboard a crowded train bound for the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, a journey of 32 hours, after departing from the West Railway Station in Beijing on January 31, 2013. The world's largest annual migration is underway in China with tens of millions across China boarding trains to journey home for Lunar New Year celebrations. Passengers will log 220 million train rides during the 40-day travel season as they criss-cross the country to celebrate with their families on February 10, but just as making the trip home can be laborious -- often lasting one or two days -- so can simply acquiring a seat on the train, and every year complaints arise about the inefficiency or unfairness of the system, although an initiative allowing travelers to purchase tickets online aims to curb long queuing times. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Thirty-six hours is the lifespan of the adult mayfly. It is the average work week (plus one hour of overtime) in France. It is the name of a 1965 film starring James Garner. It is also an incredibly long time to spend on a train. In the midst of the Lunar New Year rush, your correspondent is travelling 36 hours by rail from Beijing to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, in China’s southwest.

The Chinese government is justifiably proud of its network of futuristic high speed trains. The newest addition -- the longest high-speed railway line in the world -- opened at the end of 2012, allowing passengers to make the 1,418 km journey from Beijing to the southern metropolis of Guangzhou in just eight hours. But high-speed rail service to remote Yunnan isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2015.

Instead your correspondent is on the T-61 train out of Beijing West Station.