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Buying train tickets on web boon, bane
By Zha Minjie

AS he sat down at an Internet cafe in Huangpu District intending to buy a train ticket home for the Spring Festival, construction worker Wu Shiming's face flushed red and his right hand, holding a computer mouse, shook a little.

Wu, 39, did not say a word as he focused on his goal yesterday, getting an affordable ticket to his hometown, Chongqing in southwest China. Waiting for him at home are a son and daughter cared for by their grandparents.

It was the first day for online ticket sales for the Spring Festival, which can be bought up to 20 days ahead of time.

Buying tickets on the Internet is seen by rail authorities as a better alternative to solutions like the big ticket market set up outside railway stations in the past.

"The pre-sale period has been extended from the previous 12 days to current 20 days on the Internet," said Feng Liang, a deputy director with Shanghai Railway Station. "We expect that not many would have come to the ticket market."

Ticket booths have a pre-sale period of 18 days ahead.

Having no computer or laptop in his dormitory at his construction site, Wu went to the Internet cafe, frequented by migrant workers and other workers in the community looking for cheap train tickets.

Still, the new system represents a whole new set of challenges for some of these workers.

Just after 3pm at the noisy Internet cafe, the man seemed to be overwhelmed not by nerves but by another emotion - disappointment. He did not get the ticket home. No more tickets were available for the only date he could buy yesterday.

Wu, a construction worker in Shanghai for about five years, has in the past joined the long lines, sometimes waiting overnight, to buy a ticket at ticket booths at railway stations.

Last year he went to the ticket market twice but failed to find a ticket and had to pay more for a bus ticket.

"I came here to try my luck," said Wu, after he was told he could buy the tickets online.

"It's quite a new experience for me," said Wu, who is keeping eyes on Train K696, a slow train service that he hopes will get him home after almost a day of travel.

Railway operators have opened the ticket website, www.12306.cn, and a ticket hotline, 95105105.

But besides lack of Internet access, many migrant workers don't have payment tools like online banking to pay. Also, the website stopped working several times last month.

Nevertheless, the system has met with approval by some.

Zhang Linxiu, who runs a clothing store in the city, found yesterday that the tickets to her hometown in northwest China's Gansu Province were plentiful.

The small business owner said the experience of lining in the cold just for one ticket as in the past is "quite painful."

Even Wu, who was not successful in his first try, did not blame the computer, though.

"I think I'll just come tomorrow," Wu said.

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