Beijing South Station High-Speed Railway:Tianjin in 30 Minutes (Part I)

File this under: super-fast, super-fast, and super-fast again. It’s the kind of stuff that gets many a Swiss train enthusiast (namely yours truly) excited about. Will we finally see a train that takes the Swiss Federal Railways to task? In terms of service, convenience, and — speed, will we see a more Swiss train in China?

Indeed, these were the big questions swirling around many a Beijing train enthusiast’s mind on August 1, 2008, when the new Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Express (Jingjin Chengji Gaosu Tielu, 京津城际高速铁路) started operations from Beijing South Station (Beijing Nanzhan, 北京南站 ).

Beijing South Station: More Airport-ish Than Railway Station

The designers who made the new Beijing South Railway Station possible obviously clocked in more mileage airborne than by rail. (Yours truly actually managed to update his Dopplr profile right after writing the previous sentence, so sorry for that long yet invisible break.) The new airport — uhh, railway station — looks like — an airport.

(No kidding. Except for the fact that the new station has no customs control checkpoints yet.)

beijing south railway station
beijing south railway station
beijing south railway station
While we won’t exactly conclude that Beijing South is an El Cheapo copy of Terminal 3 (of Beijing Capital International Airport fame — and which is enough to make those who did Heathrow 5 feel better), this is probably one of the most airport-ish train stations you’ll probably ever go into.
Map of beijing transportation system
Getting Your TicketsMind you, Beijing South is impressive, but you’ll probably never get any mileage, so to speak, unless you fork out cash for some train tickets. The current Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Express comes in two flavors: first class and second class.

auto ticket machine at beijing south station
ticket hall at beijing south station
First-class one-way tickets go for RMB 68; second-class ones are CNY 10 cheaper at RMB 58. You can also nab your tickets by means of the ticket machines, which take all banknotes except for RMB 1 ones. There’s also something else to note: if you buy your return tickets in Beijing, you get charged an extra CNY 5. (We think it’s worth it!)

What’s To Come: Subway Connections

Beijing South is getting a massive Subway system linkage in just around 4 years’ time. Coming next September (2009) is the new Subway Line 4, which links the station to central Beijing at Xuanwumen and the Xidan shopping area. (Yours truly envisages romantic couples travelling from Xidan on this line all the way via high-speed rail to Tianjin, only to outdo themselves in more shopping fits in the Tianjin version, at Jinjie.) Three years after that, it’s time to get ready for the arrival of Subway Line 14, a west-east connection which is more for out-of-central-Beijing passengers and those headed for the CBD (as Line 14 is expected to run under Xidawang Road, a core CBD through route).

There’s also a very non-Subway related link coming to Beijing South in around 2012-2013: the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway (Jinghu Gaotie, 京沪高铁). It’ll take you around 5 hours to get from Beijing South to Shanghai Hongqiao.

Please Get Ready For Your Arrival

Your arrival in the waiting hall, rather. We should have changed this to read: Please get ready for your departure.

The departure hall’s where the action’s at if you’re heading out to Tianjin. The one at Beijing South, though, looks very different. No longer the enclosed rooms a la Beijing Railway Station, the departure hall fills pretty much the whole station.

For those who want to get productive — they unfortunately don’t do wifi, and the UBC Café, a café usually associated with free in-store wifi, isn’t rocking in action yet. (UBC’s wifi is nearly always free — even if you have to fork out about CNY 48 at Beijing Airport Terminal 1 for the orange juice to go along with it. Urgh.) I managed to tweet away in traditional Chinese thanks to this invention called GPRS.

I had a full two hours to kill (as I wanted a first-class ticket to Tianjin), but even so, time started rolling closer and closer to departure time. When departure time finally came, though, the station suddenly showed its more… Subway sides. Yes, indeed, in front of the platform gates are — ticket barriers.

Here’s the thing about the faregates: they actually let you keep your ticket even once you’ve exited the whole railway system (unlike the Beijing Subway, which takes your Single Journey Ticket hostage at the exit faregate once you leave the underground world).
Once you’re inside and beyond the faregates, you get to take a look at the entire station from platform level. First off: this thing is big.
But bigness is nothing without seeing what makes the thing big; so to speak, a station is of absolutely no use whatsoever unless trains actually pass through the thing.We now present you the Harmony. Think of this as the People’s Republic’s answer to the TGV of La Grande Nation, France.
CRH China Railway High-speed
We’re holding the suspense here. Part 2 comes soon.

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