Forty Winks on a slow train in China


This picture taken on January 28, 2013 shows people sleeping wherever they can on a train from Guangzhou to Changchun as they head to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival.
AFP Photo

In the toilets, on a stranger's shoulder or curled up on the floor – passengers will sleep just about anywhere on China's over-stretched transport system during the world's biggest human migration.

The essence of a long-distance train journey during China's Lunar New Year period was captured here by an AFP stringer in the south of the giant country. “I climbed up to the luggage rack to get the picture," the photographer said. 

This is the ordinary service (i.e. not a bullet train) from the southern city of Guangzhou to Changchun in the north-east, a 36-hour, 3.400-kilometre trip. In a so-called "soft-seat" carriage, young children sleep on the floor, while the older generations doze off on seats. Other people crouch over tables and catch some rest amid folded arms.

They are the lucky ones.

This picture taken on January 28, 2013 shows people sleeping wherever they can on a train from Guangzhou to Changchun as they head to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival.
AFP Photo

Many unfortunate passengers could not buy seat tickets as demand from travelers eager to return home to their families for the festivities far exceeded supply. But the lack of a seat is no barrier for the "standing" passengers who want to catch at least of couple of hours sleep. Between the train carriages, outside the toilets, bodies are strewn in every nook and cranny.

In the morning, passengers queue patiently to use the toilets. And with only two for each carriage -- which each hold about 150 people -- the lines are often long. It is just one of the 220 million train rides taken by China's hundreds of millions of migrant workers during the 40-day travel season before and after the holiday, known as the Spring Festival.

For many travelers, the most challenging part of their journey begins after the train ride is over and they begin a second odyssey through the countryside to their rural homesteads. And after spending just three or four weeks with their families, they do it all in reverse to get back to their jobs.

This picture taken on January 28, 2013 shows people sleeping wherever they can on a train from Guangzhou to Changchun as they head to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival.
AFP Photo