【明報專訊】THE SPRING FESTIVAL TRAVEL RUSH has entered its tenth day. With inclement weather sweeping across the western and central regions of the mainland, some railway lines have been suspended or are operating at low speeds, leaving droves of passengers stranded. Some sections of highways have also been closed due to heavy rain and snow, leading to multiple traffic accidents.
This year marks the first Spring Festival after the complete relaxation of pandemic control measures. The pressure exerted by the Spring Festival travel rush on the transportation system is greater than that of any previous year. It is estimated that 9 billion people will move across regions over the 40 days around the Spring Festival. No matter whether they travel by public transport or on road trips, it will set a new record for the number of people on the move in human history.
On 3 February, the eighth day of the Spring Festival travel rush, a total of 200 million people were in transit, but most passengers' journeys were not smooth. Adverse weather conditions drifted across the central inland region from west to east. Trains were cancelled on a large scale or had to move at slow speeds. In regions such as Nanjing and Wuhan, crowds of passengers are stranded at train stations. The airport in Wuhan was frozen, with most flights cancelled or delayed. As regions such as Hubei and Jiangsu are transportation hubs connecting the south and the north, the impacts of the transportation chaos are having a knock-on effect on the entire country, posing problems to transportation between the north and the south of China as well.
The weather is difficult to predict. In 2008, heavy snow descended on northern Guangdong and Hunan. Electricity was suspended on the electrified railway for 20 hours, leaving 170,000 people stranded at Guangzhou train station. Passengers anxious to return to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year shivered with cold outside the train station square all night long, leading to a chorus of complaints. The government has tried to remedy the situation. When designing contingency plans, it now considers matters from one more perspective. Today, passengers stranded at train stations are provided with heating and hot water and are even given instant noodles to satisfy their hunger.
During the Spring Festival travel rush this year, 1.8 billion people will use public transportation. The number of train passengers is expected to reach 480 million, an increase of nearly 38% from last year. Railway departments have increased the train frequency to maximise transportation capacity. Even though an average of 12 million people take trains every day, it is currently not difficult to get hold of a ticket. However, judging from the number of ticket bookings, the most popular destinations, such as Anyang in Henan, Yueyang in Hunan, and Anqing in Anhui, are all severely affected by bad weather. What's even more tragic is trains having to run slowly or stop midway, with passengers fighting hunger and cold and seeing their journeys delayed.
Public transportation facilities are managed by departments that supply them. They can inspect the safety of machinery or systems in advance to ensure safe travel. However, the new situation is that the number of self-drive trips has more than doubled from last year. If accidents occur, the consequences will be worrying.
An even bigger crisis is the regulations' failure to catch up with the rising number of self-drive trips, which will make it impossible to achieve the goal of smooth and comfortable travel. The biggest crisis happens when the regulations' failure to catch up with the exponential growth of vehicles is coupled with bad weather. The combination of these three unfavourable factors can give rise to unimaginable situations at any time. With three-quarters of the Spring Festival travel rush still ahead, it is hoped that the responsible officials will be on heightened alert to prevent joy from turning into tragedy.
■/ Glossary 生字 /
inclement : (of the weather) not pleasant; cold, wet, etc.
on the move : to be travelling from place to place
adverse : negative and unpleasant; not likely to produce a good result