As hundreds of millions of Chinese head home to celebrate the New Year with their families, the country's transportation system is struggling to accomodate nearly 3.2 billion passenger trips.
BEIJING – It’s as if the entire population of the United States took to the road several times over. During China’s “chunyun” or Spring Festival travel season, the 40-day period that began earlier this month, more than 3.2 billion passenger-trips will tax the country’s transportation system in what is thought to be the world's largest human migration ever.
On the Chinese lunar calendar, 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon, which is of special importance to the Chinese. As legend goes, the Chinese consider themselves descendants of the dragon, the only mythic creature in the Chinese 12-animal zodiac.
According to age-old tradition, the festival to greet the Chinese New Year that begins on Monday is a time for family reunions. Since millions of Chinese are migrant workers who spend most of the year separated from their families working hundreds of miles from home, the New Year holiday is the often the one time they go home.
About a quarter billion travelers will load onto China’s over-burdened rail network. Despite a new online ticketing system and hotlines, many have complained of difficulties and delays in buying train tickets. Still, for many Chinese, the ticketing problems and prospect of long ride in crowded condition are small price to pay for the once-in-a-year family reunions.
Watch NBC News’ David Lom report from the scene above.