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Soft sleeper consists of spacious carpeted & lockable 4-berth compartments, with toilets & washrooms at the end of the corridor.
Note the lacy decor & flower in a vase on the tablecloth!
Small local ticketing agencies are located all over town. You'll find these train availability boards at all main station ticket offices and they're not hard to read, even though they're in Chinese.
Don't expect English to be spoken, so ask your hotel to write down what you want. The photo below was taken at Beijing West on 1 August, and as you can see, there's zero availability in any class for today's train G625 leaving at , so don't waste time asking.
As I write this, most Beijing-Shanghai trains are sold out for the day after tomorrow, but a few trains still have seats left the day after that. First the good news: Chinese Railways launched online booking in 2011 at
Immediately afterwards there's a luggage X-ray check into the departures hall. Indicator boards on the departure concourse show which train is allocated to which waiting room - here you can see G71 is allocated to waiting room 8.
There is usually at least hour between departures from a given room. You may also find departure boards showing the status of each train.
But in all other cases, long-distance train tickets often sell out days before departure.
Train tickets are best booked at least 3-4 days in advance, preferably more, apart from peak holiday periods when they should be booked as soon as reservations open or secured through a train ticketing agency who knows the ropes, as trains get very fully-booked weeks ahead.