Trains in Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China, with a population of almost 17,000,000. Beijing has an impressive and constantly expanding Subway system, which is easy to use and serves many of Beijing’s popular tourist attractions. An excellent subway map is available at http://www.urbanrail.net/as/cn/beij/beijing-map.htm.

Beijing is also one of the major hubs for China’s long distance trains, with 4 major stations handling over 750 long distance trains every day.

Beijing’s Subways

Beijing has an extensive subway system, with 16 lines criss-crossing the city at the time of writing this. There are many “transfer stations” where subway lines meet, but don’t be fooled; just because stations on different lines share the same name does not mean they are close together. Although one line may be accessed from another without leaving the subway system, it often means walking for hundreds of metres through narrow, subterranean passageways, which may include several flights of stairs. Beware when transferring with a lot of luggage!

An oddity of Beijing’s subway system is that all bags must be put through an x-ray machine prior to entering the station. Attended x-ray machines are located at every entrance to every Beijing subway station.

Subway lines and their trains in Beijing are colour coded, with the train colour usually bearing some semblance to the map colour; line 1 is red on maps with silver and red trains, line 2 is blue on the map with silver and blue trains, etc. The only notable exceptions are line 8 (shares its stock with line 10) and line 13, which is yellow on the map, but has silver trains with orange and blue stripes. Most lines have platform screens and doors, which is great for passenger safety, but can make photography very difficult! The exceptions are line 1, line 2, Batong line and line and line 13. Line 13 seems to be the most photogenic line, with its smart silver, orange and blue trains.

A Line 1 Subway train at the Sihui East terminus in Beijing

A Line 1 Subway train at the Sihui East terminus in Beijing

Photography seems to be frowned upon on the Beijing subway. I never saw any signs saying it was not permitted, but every time a member of staff saw me snapping away, they yelled at me in Mandarin. I played ignorant every time and acted surprised, politely put my camera away and moved on to another location. This seems to be the view throughout China when it comes to trains and railways, the Chinese are very proud of their trains, but don’t want anyone to take photos of them.

Two trains pass at sunset on line 13 in Beijing

Two trains pass at sunset on line 13 in Beijing

A single journey on all lines except the airport line is ¥2 per journey (about A$0.35), and passengers may purchase single ride tickets from station vending machines or a Yikatong stored value card. The Yikatong card does not give a discount on subway fares, but it can be much more convenient than fighting your way to the front of the queue at a busy ticket machine every time you want to travel! The Yikatong card is also valid on the S2 suburban rail line and local buses within Beijing.

An older style train on Beijing's inner circle subway line (Line 2)

An older style train on Beijing’s inner circle subway line (Line 2)

The following tourist attractions are easily accessible from Beijing Subway stations:

  • Forbidden City – Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West (line 1)
  • Tiananmen Square – Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West (line 1)
  • Summer Palace – Beigongmen or Xiyuan (line 4)
  • Temple of Heaven – Tiantandongmen (line 5)
  • Yonghe Lamastry – Yonghegong (line 2 or line 5)
  • National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) – Olympic Sports Centre (line 8)

Beijing Airport Express

The Beijing Airport Express is part of the subway system, however a premium fare of ¥25 (about A$4.20) per journey applies. The Airport Express has 2 stations in Beijing; Dongzhimen (connecting with subway lines 2 & 13) and Sanyuanqiao (connecting with subway line 10) .

There are 2 stations at Beijing Airport; Terminal 3 and Terminal 1 (also serves terminal 2). The track at the airport is configured as a triangle, with trains running from Dongzhimen to Terminal 3 (via Sanyuanqiao), then to Terminal 1 and back to Dongzhimen (via Sanyuanqiao). Airport Express trains run roughly every 10 minutes between 06:30 & 22:30 daily. The full journey (Dongzhimen to Terminal 2 or Terminal 3 to Dongzhimen) takes around 30 minutes.

Beijing S2 line and Badaling Great Wall

The Beijing S2 line is an urban rail line that runs between Beijing and the mountain town of Yanqing. The trains run from Beijing North station (next to Xizhimen subway station on lines 2, 4 & 13) and makes several stops in the northern suburbs of Beijing before climbing into the mountains to the north of the city.

Passengers for the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China leave the train at Badaling station. From the station, the road is not well signposted; exit the station, cross the road and turn left. Walk uphill for about 15 minutes (no footpath) and you will arrive at the town of Badaling, where the gate to the Great Wall is located (as well as many overpriced cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops).

Trains leave Beijing North roughly every 30 – 90 minutes (I recommend checking train times here – here for the return journey), the journey time to Badaling is around 1¼ to 1½ hours. At ¥6 (about A$1), it is quicker and cheaper than taking the bus; in fact, you will probably see many tourist coaches stuck in traffic jams on the mountain highway. The train is also much more comfortable.

If you plan to do a day trip from Beijing to the Badaling Great Wall, I recommend catching the 07:58 train from Beijing North (which means you’ll need to be at the station by about 7:30). By catching this train, you will arrive before most of the tourist coaches and have far shorter queues at Badaling village. There is a train back from Badaling at 16:21 (leave Badaling village by 15:50) which will give you about 6 hours on the wall.

A Beijing S2 line train running through the suburbs of Beijing.

A Beijing S2 line train running through the suburbs of Beijing.

The S2 line trains are modern and comfortable, with a streamlined diesel locomotive at each end (in push-pull configuration). The trains run at up to 160 km/h on the flat, but considerably slower in the mountains. Seating is 2+2 with plenty of leg room, and each train has an on board cafe and (fairly clean) toilets in each car.

Which station for long distance trains?

Beijing has 4 main long distance stations; Beijing (Beijing Zhan), Beijing North (Beijing-Bei Zhan), Beijing South (Beijing-Nan Zhan) and Beijing West (Beijing-Xi Zhan). There is also a station at Beijing East, but this station is only served by a handful of trains, which also stop at Beijing.

The impressive Beijing West railway station (Beijing-Xi Zhan)

The impressive Beijing West railway station (Beijing-Xi Zhan)

Beijing West is the largest station in Asia and handles around 180,00 people on an average day (up to 400,000 per day during Chinese New Year).

Beijing South is exclusively used by CRH high speed trains (with a C, D or G prefix), however some D trains also depart from Beijing and Beijing West. The station from which your train departs will be listed on your ticket – just make sure you go to the right station, as they are not exactly close to each other!

All of Beijing’s main long distance stations are served by the subway network:

  • Beijing – line 2
  • Beijing North – Xizhimen subway station on lines 2, 4 & 13
  • Beijing South – line 4
  • Beijing West – line 9
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