Here's what it looks like when 100,000 people try to get home at once

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Passengers wait outside Guangzhou station in souther China, Feb. 1 2016.

Credit:

China Daily Information Corp

Anyone who’s ever had to travel at Christmas or Thanksgiving knows: trips during holiday periods are the worst.

The worst could be a lot worse, however, if you lived in China and were trying to make it, well, pretty much anywhere between late January and early March.

That 40-day period is "chunyun," or the spring travel rush, when seemingly most of China heads back home to celebrate Chinese New Year with family. Or tries to.

Outside Guangzhou train station, Feb. 1 2016.

In Guangzhou, a city in the south of China, an estimated 100,000 people found themselves stuck outside the railway station on Monday as winter weather delayed trains.

According to reports, more than half of them remained there as of Tuesday afternoon. 

A few things explain the crush. Firstly heavy snow and ice in central and eastern China, which has caused flight cancelations, traffic jams and train delays over several provinces for the past few days. At least 32 trains from Guangzhou station were held up because of the conditions, local media said.

Guangzhou also sees a mind-boggling number of people set off every New Year. The city and its environs house one of the largest populations in China, several million of whom are migrants. 

A man leaves a railway station in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, Jan. 31, 2016.

Many of those who have left other parts of China to work in the metropolis are determined to get home for the festivities. Some of those left waiting outside Guangzhou station had turned up a full two days before their train was due to leave, railway staff said. Passengers are now being advised to arrive no more than three hours early. 

City authorities have taken a series of extraordinary measures to manage the holiday migration. Roads around the station have been closed since the weekend, subway services to the station are temporarily canceled, and nearly 4,000 security guards were deployed to watch over the lines of people.

Guangzhou is far from the only place currently mired in travel hell, though. Pictures from Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and other cities attest that catching a train anywhere in China right now is something of an endurance test. 

The waiting hall at Hangzhou station in Zhejiang province, Feb. 1, 2016.
Passengers wait to board at Beijing West Railway station, Jan. 24, 2016.
Onboard a packed-out train from Shanghai to Shijiazhuang, Jan. 27 2016.
A couple take a nap at Guangzhou railway station, Jan. 25, 2016.

If it looks like a nightmare, it’s only the beginning of one.

According to the Ministry of Transport, the travel rush isn’t yet at its height; the madness will somehow get madder this weekend, as people seize their last chance to get home before the traditional family dinner on New Year’s Eve, which this year falls on Feb. 7. The rush is due to peak again between Feb. 11 and 13 as people prepare to return to work.

By the time that chunyun officially ends on Mar. 3, the government expects that a total of 2.91 billion journeys will have been made. We hope they’ll have been worth it.

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