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Millions brave China transport chaos as more bad weather looms

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 11, 2008
Millions of people braved China's overcrowded transport networks Monday as they began the long trek back to work at the end of the Lunar New Year holiday, amid warnings of more chaos due to bad weather.

"The overall situation remains very grim as the nation braces for the Lunar New Year return traffic peak," the state-run Xinhua news agency said, citing the Disaster Relief and Emergency Command Centre under the Cabinet.

Railway officials in the nation's three main transport hubs -- Beijing in the north, Shanghai in the east and the southern city of Guangzhou -- said the number of passengers would peak Monday and Tuesday, the China Daily reported.

The two main train stations in the Chinese capital expected the number of incoming passengers -- mostly migrants returning to their work dormitories -- would top 100,000 on both days, the state-controlled paper said.

The railway ministry had added 226 special trains to accommodate one of the biggest movements of people in the world, but even so, tickets were sold out down to the last seat, according to the paper.

Overburdened traffic networks and inclement weather could form a deadly combination, as reflected in a weekend accident when a minibus veered off an icy road in southwest China's Guizhou province, killing all nine passengers.

The Spring Festival transport season is an "annual test" to the transport system serving 1.3 billion people, Xinhua said.

It is a test that grows more formidable every year, as increasing numbers of people travel home for what is by far the biggest festival of the calendar for Chinese society.

The railways alone are expected to carry a record of 178.6 million passengers during this year's 40-day travel season, up from 156 million last year, Xinhua said, citing the railway ministry.

"Post-festival railway traffic saw a peak of more than five million passengers in one day last year, and we expect even more this year," the ministry said according to Xinhua.

The transport system has been under unprecedented strain this year not just because of the millions of extra passengers, but also because it has had to cope with the most ferocious winter weather in at least five decades.

Snow storms and chilly temperatures froze key sections of the transport network just as great numbers of people were heading home for the holiday late last month and the beginning of February, leaving millions stranded.

There were further warnings of more bad weather to come, exactly at the wrong time, at the start of the return travel rush. Tuesday is the last day of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

The State Council, or Cabinet, ordered more efforts Sunday from central and local officials to prepare for another round of precipitation mainly in south and southwest China in the next 10 days, Xinhua said.

Heavy snow or even blizzards were expected in the next three days in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan in the west, while sleet and icy rains were possible in most part of Guizhou.

A severe cold snap would affect northern China, resulting in light or moderate snow for parts of the Inner Mongolia region and Heilongjiang province in the next two days, according to Xinhua.

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