On January 11, in just about a week, new trains on the Shanghai-Chengdu and Shanghai-Chongqing high speed lines will begin operation… and boy are they aiming for a much higher income level than the citizens who normally ride the rails. New cars are equipped with the “most luxurious soft sleepers” in China, and a ticket for these first class cabins costs 2330 RMB (after 30% off!).
So what do you get for the cost of two nights at the Portman Ritz Carlton? A 15-hour trip in a cabin with two berths, a couch and a wardrobe. That’s right, you’re still sharing a room, but each berth is equipped with an individual video-on-demand TV, air conditioner, headphones and an adjustable lamp.
In comparison, a normal soft sleeper has four berths and costs between 980 to 1165RMB (depending on which route you’re taking). How much is a flight between Shanghai and Chengdu (or Chongqing)? Around 700RMB on Ctrip for a three-hour journey.
Not surprisingly, the luxury soft sleepers have come under a lot of criticism. Since the route is commonly used by migrant workers trying to return home (especially during Spring Festival), people have complained that using up necessary train cars for unneeded luxuries is of detriment to everybody.
From the Global Times:
Hu Xingdou, an expert in China-related issues at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that transportation improvements should take into account the real needs of the general public.
“Satisfying the needs of the low and middle-income class is the most urgent issue, rather than showing off unnecessary luxury decoration of a train carriage,” Hu said.
He suggested that the authorities should add more trains and new lines – such as express and direct lines – as passengers care more about speed and reasonable comfort rather than a luxurious train experience.
So who’s actually going to buy these seats? After lambasting them for being completely useless for tourists (“Who wants this luxurious experience on a train? It is dark outside at night and sightseeing is almost impossible.”) and business people (“In this day and age, a business person won’t spend a couple of hours on a train.”), sociologist Gu Jun could only come up with one possibility:
“Perhaps some passengers that are afraid of traveling by air would lavish more than 2000 Yuan on such bullet sleepers,” Gu Jun said.
Hey, who knows? An estimated 20% of adults suffer from aviatophobia, maybe now with this service – the richer ones are finally, for the first time, able to travel in style to central China?