Last updated on Feb 28, 2012
Rail is an important transport mode into and out of Suzhou. Taking trains to nearby cities such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Wuxi is popular, fast and convenient.
Traveling to most other cities in China can be done by rail too. There are trains daily from Suzhou to many cities in China, some of which include popular destinations such as Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Xi’an, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming, Xiamen and Guangzhou. The duration of traveling by train may be much longer than taking flights. But, if you have time to spare, the prices are usually cheaper and there is also no luggage limit.
However, trains are sometimes very crowded and cleanliness can be an issue. This is especially so during peak seasons such as the Spring Festival, Labor Day and National Day holidays when it is also very hard to obtain tickets. As more high-speed trains are put into operation, the hygienic conditions and comfort levels have much improved.
Important information about train tickets, information on train schedules and signboards for departure gates are usually presented in Mandarin only. Train service officials might also know little or no English at all, which means communication can be hard sometimes.
Suzhou Railway Station is the main station in Suzhou.
Suzhou Railway Station is located at a transport hub in the northern part of the city along with the bus rapid transit system. The transport hub is not far from the downtown area and tourists have many means of transportation to the city’s scenic spots.
Suzhou Railway Station is divided into the North Square and South Square. The North Square was put into use on July 1, 2011, while the South Square is still under construction. This railway station has trains to most of the cities in China, and is the key node for high-speed railway lines to Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou.
More than 100 trains depart from Suzhou to Shanghai between 6am to 10pm every day. Most trains are bound for Shanghai Railway Station and Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, all of which are “G” and “D” trains (“G” stands for “gao tie” in Chinese, meaning high-speed trains, and “D” stands for “dong che” in Chinese, meaning bullet trains). It takes only half an hour to travel from Suzhou to Shanghai by train.
The station sells tickets to major cities across China. Passengers can buy tickets 24 hours a day for trains that set out from or pass by Suzhou within three days of the purchase date. Tickets for trains that set out from or pass by Suzhou beyond three days of the purchase date can only be bought at ticket counters before 9pm every day.
Travelers can also buy train tickets from automatic machines in Suzhou station, but foreigners will find it difficult because the machines require passengers to scan their ID cards. Foreigners without ID cards should go to a counter to buy tickets with their passports.
The station is quite small and easy to navigate. Arrivals are on the first floor and departures are upstairs on the second floor.
Visiting the station can be an unpleasant experience for foreigners because there are many aggressive map sellers and beggars around.
Taxis are available on the first floor and buses to the Old Town and Suzhou Industrial Park are available on the second floor.
Besides, there are two high-speed stations in Xiangcheng District and Suzhou Industrial Park. Only high-speed trains on the Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway or Shanghai-Nanjing High-speed Railway stop at the stations. Ticket booths at the three stations mainly sell high-speed rail tickets to Shanghai and Nanjing.
Tips for purchasing train tickets
Identification for "C", "D", "G" Trains
Buying tickets for trains beginning with “C,” “D” and “G” require official identification. This often means a passport for foreigners.
Temporary residence permits, exit-entry permits or diplomatic certificates can also be used. Please also note that only one ticket can be bought per identification number under the new policy.
How to buy Chinese Train Tickets
Railway tickets can be bought from the railway station itself. There are also automated machines for ticket purchases. By the end of 2011, all tickets will be available for online purchasing at www.12306.cn, making the ticket booking process more time-efficient.
Queues at the railway station could be a hassle. To avoid long waits, it is advisable to buy tickets at any of the railway ticketing booths all over the city. However, finding English-speaking staff at the ticketing booths could be hard.
Train ticket refunds and date changes
If a train ticket is bought and changes are needed, refunds are charged at a handling fee of 5% of the ticket price. Ticket dates and times can be changed once for free. This can however, only be done at the railway station, NOT at ticketing booths.
Seats sold out and standing tickets
If seats run out on a train, standing tickets are also available. No discount are however given for standing tickets, it will be the same price as seated tickets. During peak seasons, standing tickets could run out too. Thus if traveling on a specific train and schedule is a must, then buying tickets in advance is advised.
Having said so, tickets for high speed trains to nearby locations such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou, rarely run out of seats as they are more expensive as compared to slower trains. Thus, purchasing in advance on these routes is usually not required, an hour or so before the trip would be sufficient.