China’s Trains: A Comprehensive Guide

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Linking vibrant cities, enchanting landscapes, and cultural marvels, China’s trains redefine the way you experience the rich tapestry of this vast and vibrant nation.

With the complex network comes a slightly more nuanced system of train classes and seat classes. Each train type and seating class offers unique amenities and comforts, catering to different budgets and preferences.  

Here’s a breakdown of the different train types in China to help you choose the one for your adventures. 

Train Types 

High-Speed Trains (G-series, D-series, and C-series)

China’s high-speed rail system or Fuxing Hao (meaning “rejuvenation”) is renowned worldwide for its speed, reliability, and modern amenities.  

China's Trains: G, D & C type high-speed trains
High-speed G train leaving Shanghai station.

G (Gaosu) trains are the fastest high-speed trains you can book in China and with top speeds of 400kmph, they are the second fastest commercial trains in the world. The “fastest train in the world” honor goes to the Shanghai maglev train with a top speed of 431 kmh (268mph), but unlike G trains, the maglev only travels between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road station. G trains usually run on middle-to-long distance routes, such as Beijing-Shanghai and Beijing-Guangzhou, and are like airplanes in comfort and luxury, with Wi-Fi available. Put simply, where a conventional train would take more than 24 hours, the G trains will take 7-8 hours depending on the stops. They are daytime trains, i.e., no sleeper compartments here.  

D (Dongche) trains are the second fastest train type in China, with an average speed of 250kmph (155mph). D trains are also available as overnight sleeper trains. *Note that these are not as widely available as G trains. 

C (Chenji Dongche) trains are intercity trains that run between neighboring cities. Their average speed is 200kmph (124 mph). 

Seat classes 

G trains offer three seat classes (business, first and second), while the rest of the train types (D and C) offer two primary seat classes (first and second): 

First Class (Yidengzuo)*: The first-class cabins on high-speed trains offer spacious, adjustable seats with more elbow room than second-class seats, dedicated power outlets, and fewer seats in a row. *WildChina’s recommended seat class if business class is not available 

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
An example of first-class seating on China’s high-speed trains (photo credit to Wikimedia Commons)

Second Class (Erdengzuo): Second-class seats are the most common and most affordable seat class on high-speed trains, with shared power outlets, and smaller elbow and leg room. This is the most popular choice for local travelers, providing a perfect balance between affordability and convenience.  

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
Second-class seats on high-speed trains are the most popular and therefore, the liveliest.

Business Class: For extra luxury and comfort, G trains offer Business Class seats (business class is higher than 1st class on Chinese trains). The amenities are similar to what you expect from business class seats on planes: fully reclining seats that turn into beds, more privacy, fewer passengers in the car, free snacks and soft drinks, and a dedicated TV.   (This is WildChina’s recommended seat class.)

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
Business class seats on China’s high-speed trains offer maximum comfort and privacy

Most major train stations feature VIP lounges for business class travelers to relax before boarding, offering complimentary beverages and snacks, access to newspapers and magazines, free Wi-Fi, and more. Additionally, these lounges may provide complimentary porter services for passengers with large luggage and wheelchair assistance for those with special needs during boarding.

On key routes like Beijing-Shanghai, the business class seats have undergone an exceptional upgrade, now offering an extra layer of privacy, luxury, and comfort.

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
The latest business class seats on G trains, currently available on select trunk routes.

Conventional Trains (Z, T, K, and 4-digit trains) 

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
Conventional D train leaving a Beijing railway station

China’s conventional (slow) trains offer several seat classes, catering to diverse travel modes. 

Z trains are non-stop express trains, making only the odd stops along the way. The top speed is 160kmph (100mph). They run between major cities like Beijing and Shanghai 

T trains (express trains), K trains (fast trains), and 4-digit trains run at an average speed range of 120 – 140kmph (75-87mph). These conventional trains have been around since the middle of the 20th century and are an excellent choice if you want to explore the cities at a slower pace, as they stop along most major stops.  

Seat classes

Hard Seat (Yingzuo): The most economical choice, hard seats provide a budget-friendly option for short journeys. These seats are, as the name suggests, hard and not the most comfortable. 

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
Hard seats on conventional trains

Soft Seat (Ruanzuo): Soft seats offer a more comfortable experience with cushioned seating, making them suitable for medium-distance travel. 

China's trains: soft seats
Soft seats on conventional trains

Hard Sleeper (Yingwo): These budget-friendly sleeper options offer three-tiered bunk beds and are suitable for overnight journeys where comfort is a consideration. Hard sleeper cars are open-compartment/ cars, which means less privacy.  

Hard sleepers on conventional overnight trains
Hard sleeper bunks on conventional trains

Soft Sleeper (Ruanwo): Soft sleeper compartments provide a higher level of comfort with two-tiered bunk beds, bedding, and more privacy. They are perfect for extended overnight travel and provide more privacy as the four-bed cabins have closing doors.  

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide
Soft sleeper cabins on China’s conventional trains

Refer to the below handy table that summarizes the different train classes, seat types, and amenities available on China’s trains.

China's Trains: A Comprehensive Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Do they speak English at stations / on trains? 

Train staff speak little English, but railway station announcements, including boarding calls, may be provided with English translations.  

Is food included? 

Ticket prices do not include food.  

Is food available on trains

Food is available in dining cars: Car 9 on conventional trains, and usually Car 5 on high-speed trains. Trolley selling snacks and beverages often goes back and forth between cars. You may consider bringing your food, as the choices are limited to few Chinese dishes. For sleeper trains your WildChina guide will take you shopping to get everything you need for dinner, breakfast and lunch prior to your journey.  

What are the recommended baggage types to bring?

Consider bringing baggage with wheels, as most stations have long flights of stairs, but have wheel ramps available.   

Are there porter services to help with luggage? 

Most major city train stations have a porter service which WildChina can book for you. The porter will help carry your baggage on and off the train and through the station. Note that this service is limited to major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi’an. Get in touch with us to see the availability of your arrival station. 

What are the toilet facilities like?

Toilets and washbasins are public and available at the end of every car. High-speed trains are equipped with a few Western-style toilets across the train. Conventional trains usually only have squat toilets. *As with all Chinese public toilets, you need to bring your own hand soap, toilet paper, and other sanitary supplies. On high-speed trains, Car 5 has an accessible WC with a Western-style toilet and a changing table. Regular trains don’t have accessible WCs.  

What are the most popular routes to take and how much are they?

Here’s a table showing the popular train routes and how much they cost:

Looking for a train to Tibet? Here’s an article on the Qinghai-Tibet railway.  

Already planning a trip with WildChina? Get in touch with your travel designer to add a rail journey to your itinerary. They’ll be happy to advise you on where in your itinerary the best rail connection can be made! 

Interested in planning a new trip with WildChina? Get in touch to begin.