Cablegate: 400,000 Stranded Rail Passengers in Guangdong

DE RUEHGZ #0048/01 0290642
R 290642Z JAN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: 400,000 Stranded Rail Passengers in Guangdong

(U) This document is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect

1. (SBU) Summary: Severe weather, which is causing transportation
shut-downs in Central and East China, has left 400,000 passengers
stranded at railway stations in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan in
the Pearl River Delta. With the delays to date, it is possible that
upwards of 700,000 passengers might not have passage home before the
Lunar New Year. Local government is actively engaged in trying to
ensure order is maintained and stranded workers and families are
taken care of. Despite government efforts to encourage travelers to
cancel trips home and remain near their workplace, most people at
the train station and nearby shelters remain determined to return
home for the holiday. End summary.

Severe Weather Strands Thousands in South China
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) According to Guangzhou Railway Group, severe weather caused
transportation closures in Central and East China and left a total
of 400,000 passengers stranded at railway stations in Guangzhou,
Shenzhen and Dongguan. When trains do resume, they will only be
able to take 70,000 passengers per day. With the delays to date, it
is possible that upwards of 700,000 passengers might not have
passage home before the Lunar New Year.

3. (U) Difficulties are also mounting in terms of sanitation and
health. Over 100 stranded passengers at the Guangzhou railway
square fainted and were sent to the railway station for medical
treatment; more than 100 tons of rubbish have piled up in the area
each day. The city government sent 120 sanitation workers to remove
garbage; portable toilets have been positioned at major
intersections and walkways near the Guangzhou Rail Station.

Basic Services Coming Available, Despite Strains
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) Prices for food and drinks in the area went up dramatically
as the crisis mounted, but now appear to be settling as the local
government has taken control of the situation. Guangzhou plans to
open 13 shelters for stranded passengers with free food and water
provided, and Congenoff, who spent several hours at the station
talking with travelers, saw free bottled water and inexpensive hot
meals being distributed at the Liuhua Convention Center, 3 blocks
south of the train station. Media reports indicate that as many as
50,000 passengers have been sheltered at the site in recent days,
with travelers gathered in different waiting areas according to
final destination. Congenoff noticed the availability of basic
medical services and a robust police presence clearly meant to
maintain order even as periodic announcements of train arrivals
instructed stranded passengers how to proceed to their departure

Stranded Passengers Encouraged to Change Plans
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) According to local media reports (the global economic
situation has now been overshadowed by the crisis in travel
arrangements), Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua inspected the
Guangzhou Railway Station on January 28 and instructed local
officials to try and persuade migrant workers to stay in the
province during the Lunar New Year. The Guangzhou Trade Federation
has called on local branches to organize activities for migrant
workers who decide to stay. Outside the station, police officers
formed the outer-most security cordon, with People's Armed Police
(PAP) stationed behind the police and makeshift crowd-control
barriers. Police throughout the area were heard actively
encouraging travelers, many of whom said they had waited overnight,
to remain in Guangdong for the holiday.

6. (SBU) The Guangzhou Railway Group is also encouraging rail
passengers to change their travel plans and consider travel by bus.
However, the press continues to report that icy road conditions in
Central China have made bus travel to northern destinations almost
impossible and will likely continue for the next few days, with
traffic jams along the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway. The local Traffic
Bureau has arranged for more than 1,000 buses to take those stranded
in Guangzhou back to their work places (in Dongguan and other nearby
areas) free of charge. At the same time, the Ministry of Railways
has dispatched 60 extra trains, and rail ticket offices in Guangdong
have stopped selling new tickets since January 26. Instead, ticket
offices have begun refunding ticket fees without penalty, although
travelers on the street expressed concern that refund lines would be
exceptionally long and refund procedures might be complicated.

Unwavering Determination to Travel Home

GUANGZHOU 00000048 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) Although media reported thousands of passengers processing
refunds and remaining in Guangdong for the holiday, most people
waiting outside the train station and convention center remained
firm about going home for Lunar New Year. One man said the
difficulties of purchasing his train ticket and the fact that he did
not make it home last year meant he had no intention of giving up or
seeking a refund. Occasional bouts of frustration led some people
to raise voices at police and one couple scaled barriers and
attempted to run across security perimeters surrounded by police and
PAP, only to be apprehended and sent back the way they came. When
asked about their dash, the couple told Congenoff that it was worth
a try to enter the station, although they did not want trouble and
were willing to return when stopped by PAP guards.


© Scoop Media

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