Train Ride from Hell

Winnipeg Sun 5 Febuary 2008


GUANGZHOU, China -- First, the food aboard the train ran out, then the water.

When record blizzards hit China last month, what began as a 36-hour train trip for Edward Wang became an ordeal lasting nearly twice that long.

He described fighting among drunken passengers and staff armed with knives, fears of being robbed by those desperate for food, and breathing air so foul that some people became dizzy.

Wang, 25, rode the rails as China's worst blizzards and ice storms in five decades caused havoc during the nation's busiest travel period, the Chinese New Year. At least 60 people died, thousands of vehicles were stranded on highways, rail travel was severely disrupted, and damage has been estimated at $7.5 billion.


State-run television and newspapers have painted an inspiring picture of people coping with the disaster -- soldiers chipping ice off highways, and passengers smiling out of train windows.

But Wang, an English teacher said: "We didn't know what was happening. The conductor didn't make announcements."

Food ran out the first day.

"I guess there were 600 trains ahead of us, and everything was sold out," he said.

The water also ran out.

Some passengers drank beer or the fiery "bai jiu" liquor.

A few got drunk and barged into the packed dining car, demanding food.

Fighting broke out.

"The cooks had knives and the passengers had broomsticks. There were no injuries, though."

When staff finally got lunch boxes at a stop, they doubled the usual price to $2.80, But passengers then began hoarding meals.

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