How do I read a Chinese train timetable?

If you don’t read Chinese, looking at a train timetable will likely be a dizzying experience. There’s a lot of information on there, for sure, but luckily timetables aren’t too difficult to decipher. You just need to know what you’re looking at.


A standard train timetable looks like this.


Roughly speaking, the columns can be broken down into the following categories:


Columns 1-4 refer to which train you’re getting on (type, destination, times).

Columns 5-15 refer to where you’re sitting on the train (different classes of seat/berth).

Column 16 (online only) is the “Book tickets” button.


Specifically, here’s what each column represents:

1. Train number (note that the letter refers to the class of train – ie. how fast or slow the journey will be).

2. From/to (remember that some cities have more than one station – be careful with this).

3. Departure/arrival time (using 24-hour clock).

4. Length of journey (hours/minutes – don’t get this confused with departure and arrival times!).

5. Business class (seat).

6. Deluxe class (seat).

7. First class (seat).

8. Second class (seat).

9. Deluxe soft sleeper.

10. Soft sleeper.

11. Hard sleeper.

12. Soft seat.

13. Hard seat.

14. Standing room only.

15. Other.

16. Book/Reserve.

In the columns referring to ticket class, the green character “有” simply means that there are tickets available. If tickets in a given class are running low, a number will be displayed, indicating how many tickets are left. The grey character “无” indicates that a given class is sold out or unavailable for that journey.

So now you can read a timetable, head over to China’s national online train ticket booking site and practice doing it for yourself!


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