Its central hall is big enough to fit a Boeing 747 and that says much about Beijing South. In many ways it is more like an airport terminal.
Merely pointing out it is the largest railway station in Asia does not begin to do justice to this behemoth. The statistics are as breathtaking as the experience: a roof area equal to 24 football pitches; waiting areas capable of holding 10,000 people at a time, half of them seated; a structure larger than the Bird's Nest; and a capacity to spew forth 30,000 passengers per hour, to name a few.
Welcome to train travel 21st century-style but ponder the aviation parallels.
You arrive via a perimeter ring road to a vast modern building with a row of taxi drop-off points. Departures and arrivals are on different levels to allow for efficient movement of passengers. Above it the glass ceiling's 3,246 solar panels supply the station's electricity needs. Underneath are links to various forms of transport: 800 basement car parking spaces, 40 taxi bays and an area for 30 buses.
The subway hasn't arrived yet but Line 4 is scheduled to be in place next year and Line 14 by 2012.
Buying a ticket is a breeze, either over the counter or at the many machines, and the waiting area resembles a vast departure lounge. The aviation similarities even continued on the journey - staff dressed like airhostesses served free bottles of water to first and second-class passengers and the lock-up toilets, with sit-down facility and granite bench tops, were high quality.
The station opened just in time for the Olympics and although not yet finished, already has various restaurants. The airport analogy ends with the prices, though. Here, the bill is high street, not high-flyer.
This 7-billion-yuan (US$1 billion) investment is the jewel in the crown of China's railway network and is something the staff is proud of. A woman surnamed Wu, 30, sells magazines to waiting passengers and transferred to Beijing South three months ago after working in the old Beijing Station for five years.
Despite the station's vast workload, she says: "It works in perfect order under the management of only 150 staff. Our government will keep investing to develop the railway system. In the future, there will be more trains connecting this station to capital cities in provinces across the country."
The station isn't even finished yet but it is already breathtaking. "M-a-t-e!" exclaimed fellow Aussie Bill McGuinness. "This is unbelievable. Back in Australia all we have are stations that are 80 years old and get renovated bit by bit. This is new and state-of-the-art."
The millions of other travelers who have already passed through Beijing South's doors doubtless feel the same way.
The future down the track is bright indeed.
Fastest growth in history
Over the next 11 years, China's rail network will expand faster than any rail system in history, reaching a total of 120,000 km.
The 5 trillion yuan (US$735 billion) project involves building new rail lines and doubling existing ones. High-speed rail lines, on which fast passenger trains can operate at up to 200 km/h, will also be extended to 50,000 km . Once finished, the network will be accessible to 90 percent of the population by linking all provincial capitals and cities, says Lu Dongfu, vice-minister of railways.
As the global economic slowdown begins to bite, money will be spent faster than planned to help speed flagging growth in China.
In September and October, the Ministry of Railways announced eight new railway projects in various parts of the country. The 405 billion yuan (US$60 billion) project equals 78 per cent of the total investment that China poured into railway construction from 2003 to 2007.
Over the past five years, the total investment for the railway infrastructure was 522 billion yuan (US$77 billion). At present, 150 railway projects are under construction, involving an investment of 1.6 trillion yuan (US$235 billion).
The ministry says about 10,000 km of new railways will be built in 2009 and 2010 respectively, with expenditure of about 1 trillion yuan in each of the two years. -CHINA DAILY/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK