Passengers buy tickets on Train No 7053, which runs between Zibo and Taishan in Shandong province and is the slowest train in service across China. Photo: China Daily/Zhou Jianxin
The conductors aboard Train No 7053 always tell the passengers to prepare for the next stop, but there's really no need to hurry.
The train, which runs between the eastern Chinese cities of Zibo and Taishan, travels at an average speed of 32 kilometers per hour and makes 23 stops on a route of less than 200 km. It is one of the slowest trains in Shandong province, if not the country.
"It runs so slowly that passengers can see clearly through the windows the fruit on the trees and farmers working in the fields far away," said Zhao Xinhua, the chief conductor.
Over the past decade, high-speed railways have developed rapidly in China. The country has the world's longest high-speed rail network, about a third of which has been designed to run at a speed of 350 km/h.
Offering neither speed nor comfort, Train No 7053 is an anachronism in the era of high-speed rail travel. However, the service remains a draw for many travelers who come just for its vintage charm.
The train is powered by a coal-fired boiler and is not equipped with air-conditioning or entertainment facilities. Photo: China Daily/Zhou Jianxin
For many of them, to ride Train No 7053 is to ride through history. The green external paint, fans on the ceiling and the hard bench seats with stitches are all a throwback to a time decades ago when such trains were the norm in China.
"Speed may be the name of the game today, but it's the slowness of the train that appeals to me," said Cai Bin, a backpacker from Zhejiang province. "Many of us young people come to ride the slow train after reading about it online.
Zhao, who has been working on the train as a conductor for 37 years, said she is surprised so many backpackers are attracted by the train, especially as some come from faraway places.
Launched in 1974, the No 7053 service was a lifeline for people living in the mountainous regions for nearly three decades. During that time, the train was often filled with farmers carrying huge loads of produce they hoped to sell at the city markets.
"I still remember some 20 years ago, there was a passenger about 70 years old who always boarded the train with more than 20 kilograms of dates and got off to sell them for a profit of just 8 yuan ($1.20) at a market in another town," Zhao said.
After the turn of the century, as more towns and villages along the railway became accessible by road, the slow-running train gradually fell out of favor. As a result, the number of cars was cut from 12 to eight and eventually to four, and the train became more of a tourist attraction than an essential means of transportation.
"For nearly four decades on the train, I have witnessed a great transformation: More roads have been built in the countryside, trains run faster and people enjoy better lives," Zhao said.
The conductor plans to retire this year at age 55, but her slow train will continue to chug along.