China trains are labeled by letters. Different letters represent different speeds and often represent the train’s atmosphere. The two basic categories of trains are budget trains and high speed trains.
Cheap budget trains
These trains are by far the slowest and cheapest trains. Trains identifies by number only are the slowest, K trains are a little faster, followed by T trains. These trains have hard seats, soft seats, hard sleeper bunks (6 beds per room), and soft sleeper bunks (4 beds per room). Each of these trains are usually filled with low budget travelers either migrant workers or students returning from the city to visit family in the countryside. Each traveler carries large rice bags stuffed with personal belongings and oftentimes chews sunflower seeds the whole trip. Instant noodles are a must.
High speed trains
Moving up a class of trains are the D trains. These are new, faster, and more expensive day trains that speed from one mega-opolis to another. These trains offer first or second class seat tickets. While about twice (or 4-5 times) as expensive as the budget trains, these trains offer a high speed alternative to the budget trains cutting the travel time in half. Each train is usually filled with business travelers making a quick trip to another city for a business meeting, conference, or sales event. Instant noodles are still a must, but these trains also offer a hot meal served for 40 RMB. G trains are the most recent China addition as the fastest and most expensive alternative, but I’ve yet to ride one.
When we travel with kids, we choose the high speed day trains. The kids love to ride the bullet train and these trains are less crowded, newer, cleaner, and faster.
As we returned from Beijing we jumped on board our D train and headed back to Shenyang. It quickly emerged that this would not be a typical D train experience. We were on a D train with a T train atmosphere.
Just behind us, a traveler without a purchased seat sat on his rice bag. He purchased a cheap standing room only ticket and yet he played Fruit Ninja on his smart phone the whole trip. Another time a standing room only passenger quickly sat down next to M’Lynn having finally found the open seat. A seat in front of us, passengers munched on hard boiled eggs and seeds.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.