PLA lends brain and brawn for China’s New Year travel rush

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PLA soldiers stand guard at an entrance to the Guangzhou Railway Station. Photo: PLA Daily

The China Railway Corporation is said to have sold 350 million tickets since January 3, the first day when tickets for train trips during the annual Lunar New Year travel rush, or chunyun in Mandarin, went on sale nationwide.

State broadcaster China Central Television reported that during the peak of online transactions in early February hundreds of millions of migrant workers turned to the rail operator’s booking platform, 12306.com, to get tickets for their exodus back home in rural China.

The system saw some 150 billion hits per day and sold on average 11 million tickets on a daily basis – 700 transactions per second, which would fill an eight-car bullet train. Around 3 billion trips are expected for this year’s chunyun.

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The 12306 mobile ticketing app. Photo: CRC

To cope with the staggering traffic from desktops and mobile phones – as passengers check schedules and compare fares before buying seats – the CRC sought help from the country’s military. They did not want soldiers to man ticketing offices or answer inquiries, but, to construct an online ticketing system that can handle an astronomical amount of visits and remain virtually infallible, while backed by racks of military-grade servers.

It’s said the Chinese military’s low-profile IT brigade, the online warriors and hackers in cyber-warfare, were the brains behind the system.

A facial recognition system has also been tested at major stations. A passenger just needs to look at a gate with a camera installed for a comparison to be made with stored photos in a huge data-bank, plus ID cards for verification. The entire process takes just a few seconds.

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Passengers try out a facial recognition system at a train station in Wuhan. Photo: Xinhua

Still, when technology has revolutionized ticketing and the legions of bullet trains that traverse the nation on a spiraling high-speed network stirs feelings of national pride, low-tech ways of patrolling, anti-terrorism and crowd control are still indispensable for ensuring a safe, smooth chunyun.

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Large swathes of passengers are seen outside the Guangzhou Railway Station during 2017’s chunyun. Photo: Guangzhou Daily
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PLA troops patrol inside a train station. Photo: WeChat via Guangming Daily

The People’s Liberation Army and the armed police have sent more than 100,000 soldiers to patrol stations in key rail transport hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhengzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Nanjing, etc, to maintain order and respond to any emergency, according to Xinhua.

In Guangzhou, the city’s three main stations saw 450,000 migrant workers board trains each day to head back home last week, and the Southern Theatre Command drew reinforcements from barracks elsewhere across Guangdong province to the capital city for deployment at stations there. A heavy police and military presence are seen in the city, as the same in other major urban centers throughout the nation.

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