China’s Seasonal Spring Rush

Throngs of passengers are seen inside the main concourse of Shenzhen’s North Railway Station during “Chunyun”. Photo: Baycrest/WikiMedia

New technology is here to “ease” China’s seasonal “Spring Rush” as three billion trips are expected prior to and during this year’s “Lunar New Year” break.

“Chūnyùn,” also referred to as the “Spring Festival” travel season, is a period of travel in China with extremely high “traffic” load around the time of the “Chinese New Year.”

The period usually begins 15 days before Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for around 40 days.

The number of passenger-journeys during the “Chūnyùn” period is projected to be hitting over 2.9 billion. It has been called the largest “annual human migration” in the world.

Bullet trains parked at a marshaling yard in central China’s Wuhan. Photo: Xinhua

Rail transport experiences the biggest challenge during the period, and myriad social problems have emerged.

Facial and voice recognition, robots, augmented reality navigation and other novel technologies are tapped to come into operation for safety and crowd control, when some three billion trips are made in China prior to and during this year’s Lunar New Year break, which begins on February 5.

Stations and airports throughout the nation typically struggle with the sudden spike in passenger numbers during the annual Spring Festival travel rush.

A passenger goes through a gate installed with a facial recognition system at Wuhan Railway Station in central China. Photo: Xinhua

Xinhua news agency has reported that China Railway Corp has launched a trial scheme to deploy robots as well as a turn-by-turn augmented reality (AR) app at major national transport nodes.

These include Guangzhou’s South Railway Station, Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station and Shenzhen’s North Railway Station, where the new technology is there to help passengers navigate inside the massive railway hubs to their desired platforms for boarding.

Facial recognition and ID card readers have replaced manual ticket inspection at more stations this year: passengers only need to swipe their tickets and ID cards on a scanner for access to platforms, and it takes just two to ten seconds to go through the turnstiles.

Scenes from 40 years of China’s annual “Chūnyùn”…

Long queues inside ticketing halls are but a memory, now that buying tickets means a few taps on your smartphone, with payments made via WeChat pay and Alipay using your fingerprint or even face to establish your identity.

Even the hated, formerly ever-present “ticket scalpers” are no more.

Some stations now support QR code-based e-tickets to save time and trees.

At Beijing’s airport, facial recognition software provided by Baidu has been in place since 2018 to help passengers reach their flights more quickly.

Everyone is safe but under scrutiny as they travel on China’s bullet trains on the nation’s sprawling 29,000 kilometers of high-speed rail routes.

The same goes for the nation’s growing passenger jet fleet, all equipped with high-definition CCTV cameras.

One of China Railway Corp’s train operation central centers. Photos: Handout, WeChat

Citing a cadre with China Railway Corp, People’s Daily even brags that the rail operator’s NASA-like control and coordination center in Beijing can monitor almost each and every train in motion throughout the country with real-time data including speed and route.

One of China Railway Corp’s train operation central centers. Photos: Handout, WeChat

A train conductor at the marshaling center can even call a driver via the network’s tailor-made communications system.

Uber-like Chinese carpooling and car renting “DiDi” apps will take care of the last part of your journey, from major stations to your home.

Nowadays even such localized transportation depends upon powerful big data and data crunching algorithms to dispatch drivers and cars according to train schedules and real time passenger flows, thanks to data sharing deals inked with railway operators.

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