The train is a popular way to travel in China, but you don’t want to jump on just any train. The trains are separated into levels. The best trains are labeled with a D or G, followed by a number. Then it goes T, K, and finally no letter at all. This is a way of classifying the speed of the train as well as the cost. For example, a D train from Shanghai to Changzhou takes about an hour and 15 minutes and costs 50 yuan. A T train takes three hours and costs 35 yuan. For God’s sake, pay the extra 15 yuan!
Not only are the D trains faster and subject to fewer delays, they are a much cleaner, more comfortable ride. The D trains have a strict no-smoking policy that—surprise!—people actually follow, the bathrooms are tolerable, the seats (not the bathroom seats) are slightly softer, there’s more leg room, and on longer journeys, the attendants hand out free bottles of water. The other trains, however, are much more cramped and dirty and cater to a more unpleasant crowd.
I have taken such a liking to the D train, I don’t even like traveling to places the D train doesn’t go. Seriously, the T and K trains are that bad. Of course, the D train isn’t always an option. While there are many D trains running between Shanghai and Nanjing every day, there are none going to places like Harbin or Guilin. Some day, that should change, but for the time being, you just have to tough it out. When possible, however, go for the D train. Don’t try to save money. Don’t try to be adventurous. This is one instance where you’ll be glad you played it safe.
When I was ready to post this article, a new train opened up in China. On July 1, the G train took the throne as the top dog. Honestly, I didn’t care to ride this train, but the ticket office forced me to… maybe as a way to recoup their losses. A G train ticket from Changzhou to Shanghai was 80 yuan, but the ride only saved me 20 minutes. It’s a pretty fast train, though, and actually made me feel queasy near the end. As soon as it hit 350 km/hour, everyone took out their cameras to take a picture of the marquee. It still doesn’t trump the Maglev train’s top speed of 430 km/hour (the Maglev being a short-distance train in Shanghai), but, man, who knew trains were so cool.