Chinese trains link virtually all main cities and towns in China, and are a safe, comfortable and civilized way to travel, even for families or women travelling alone. They have 4 classes: soft seat, soft sleeper, hard seat, hard sleeper. Short distance trains normally have just hard class seats, although some inter-city trains also have soft class seats.
Long distance trains have soft & hard class sleepers. Soft sleepers have comfortable 4-berth compartments with full bedding provided. Hard class sleepers have bunks in open-plan dormitory cars, usually arranged in bays of 6 (upper, middle and lower) on one side of the aisle, with pairs of seats on the other side of the aisle for daytime use. Soft sleeper is recommended for most visitors to China, but budget travelers often use hard class, which is quite acceptable. The most important trains on the Beijing-Shanghai, Beijing-Hong Kong, Beijing-Xian and some other routes have deluxe soft class with 2-berth compartments with private toilets as well as the normal 4-berth soft class. Most long-distance trains have a restaurant car serving full meals. The photographs below show modern sleepers and a restaurant car on a typical 'T' or 'K' category express between major cities. The best 'Z' category trains are even more modern, see the pictures further down this page.
Always arrive at the station in plenty of time before the departure of your train. In major cities, especially Beijing, stations can be large and busy, and it may take a while to find your train. In some cases there are security checks (including airline-style luggage checks) to go through before boarding.