BEIJING, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao has ordered the Ministry of Railways (MOR) to "brainstorm for measures" to help travelers over the annual Spring Festival travel peak.
The ministry's website on Thursday reported a message from Hu, saying, "This year's Spring festival is facing a tougher supply-demand imbalance and the ministry has to brainstorm for measures to promote passenger convenience and open the measures to public. The ministry has to ensure a smooth and safe transportation during the peak season."
Passengers head for their trains at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing Jan. 15, 2009. China's annual Spring Festival pessenger rush is getting started these days as the Spring Festival comes close
Senior officials Zhou Yongkang and Zhang Dejiang have also urged the ministry to investigate ticket shortage problems and take actions to guarantee tickets.
In response to the instructions, Vice Minister of Railways Wang Zhiguo said the ministry had ordered to suspend cargo services to allow more passenger trains in the busiest southern and eastern regions. Short-distance passenger trains would be suspended for more long-distance trains. Hard sleepers would be changed to seats.
The ministry will also transfer passenger trains serving northeast and northwest areas to south and east China and improve schedules of temporary trains, especially those for students and migrant workers.
Meanwhile, tickets will be sold only in the railway ticket sales network, except for group tickets for students and migrant workers. Hotels, restaurants and travel agencies are ordered to halt ticket booking services, and major stations will adopt 24-hour sales.
Stations have to set up counters for students and send staff to sell tickets in schools and places where migrant workers gather.
Sales staff are prohibited from buying tickets for others, from carrying cash and mobile phones during work hours, from keeping personal belongings on the sales desk.
Wang also apologized to passengers who had reacted angrily to a video posted online, which showed a sales lady in Beijing Railway Station printing 130 tickets for trains running to cities in the northeast.
Passengers had accused the station of scalping tickets.
People queue up to buy train tickets at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing Jan. 15, 2009. China's annual Spring Festival pessenger rush is getting started these days as the Spring Festival comes close.
"On behalf of the ministry, I have to apologize to passengers for their unpleasant feelings and misunderstandings the incident has caused," Wang said. "The action was immediately investigated and turned out it was part of advance preparations to save time for passengers. There was no rumored collusion between railway staff and ticket scalpers."
He said the ministry pledged to crack down on scalpers and exert strict supervision on booking systems, including sales outlets and online booking.
Last December a nationwide campaign was launched to tackle ticket counterfeiting and scalping. As of Thursday, the authorities had detained 2,393 people in 2,009 scalping investigations and seized 78,237 tickets, of which 60,000 were counterfeit.
MOR spokesman Wang Yongping said insufficient transport capacity resulted in the short supply and scalpers made it worse.
Almost 188 million people are expected to travel by train in the holiday season, up 8 percent or 13.73 million from last year. The daily rail traffic will grow by 340,000 people to a record average high of 4.7 million.
From Jan. 1 to 10, the number of passengers leaving Beijing increased 29.4 percent year on year. The figure for Shanghai was 22.7 percent and Guangzhou 25.8 percent.
The Spring Festival rush started on Jan. 11. The first four days saw 18.15 million travelers nationwide, 4.538 million a day, up 8.5 percent from a year earlier.
Wang said the ministry had arranged a record 2,208 temporary trains, 253 more than the same period last year, and more were yet to come into service, but the supply was still far from enough, he added.
Wang Zhiguo said the ministry would start construction on up to 30,000 kilometers of new lines with investment of more than 2 trillion yuan (292.5 billion U.S. dollars) in two years.
Operational railways would stretch 110,000 kilometers by 2012 when the difficulty of obtaining a ticket would be much eased, he added.
People queue up to buy tickets at the Changsha Railway Station in Changsha, capital of central-south China's Hunan Province, Jan. 8, 2009. The Spring Festival travel period, known as Chunyun in Chinese, began to see its passenger peak in Changsha as the college students and migrant workers started to return home.