China’s Underwhelming High-Speed Train Meals Get Competition
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2017-07-17 11:33:22

Starting Monday, the reliably bad food served aboard China’s high-speed trains is getting some much-needed competition. Travelers whose journey goes past any of 27 major rail stations can have meals delivered to their seats, with a menu ranging from local delicacies to Western offerings such as KFC.

Using the railways’ own ticket-booking app and website, train passengers can order a meal at least two hours in advance. On the route from Beijing to Shanghai, for example, stations in Shandong and Jiangsu provinces offer meals from international fast-food chain KFC, noodle chain restaurant Yonghe King, and others. The delivery fee is 8 yuan ($1.20).

The move marks the first time that China’s railways have opened onboard catering to private companies. Previously, state-owned China Railways outsourced these services in an opaque way, resulting in a limited selection of meals that many passengers thought too expensive and not particularly tasty. Railway service standards from 2015, now abolished, required trains to have an ample supply of 15-yuan lunch boxes and 2-yuan bottled water, but these cheaper offerings were often sold-out or off the menu.

In April, an investigative report by Chinese Business View, a newspaper based in Xi’an, capital of northwestern China’s Shaanxi province, questioned the pricing and food safety of meals served on high-speed trains. In response, China Railway said it would gradually implement market-oriented reforms. In 2016, a total of 1.44 billion trips were made on China’s sprawling high-speed railway network.

Some passengers tried the new service on Monday. A woman surnamed Hou on a train bound from Tianjin, a port city in northern China, to Shanghai told Sixth Tone that one person in her train car had a meal delivered during a stop in Nanjing. She said she would consider using the service when she next traveled by train, explaining that the usual available food does not appeal to her. “The meals offered on trains are basically all 45-yuan sets,” Hou said.

Net users have been largely excited by the prospect of more dining options, though some have also expressed concerns about whether prices would be higher than normal, and fears that the pungent new aromas might leave lingering odors in the cars.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A train attendant pushes a snack cart down the aisle of a high-speed rail car in Zhengzhou, Henan province, Sept. 20, 2012. Ma Jian/VCG)