What it’s like to travel 100 miles by train inside Beijing’s Olympic bubble


Getting around Beijing’s closed-loop Olympic bubble isn’t easy, but traveling 160 kilometers from central Beijing to Zhangjiakou is an experience in itself.

The journey begins with Covid testing right outside my hotel – a daily ritual of life inside the bubble.

My first destination is the main media center, which serves as a hub for the three dozen bus routes running through central Beijing – one of three “zones” inside the Olympic closed loop where sporting events take place .

The media center is the only place I can catch a bus to the train station in the northwestern outskirts of town.

As the bus winds its way through the streets of Beijing, it becomes its own mobile mini-bubble, passing local residents going about their daily lives. The front of the bus is completely sealed behind a thick transparent screen, intended to protect the driver against the spread of the virus.

Statues of the Beijing Olympic mascots at Taizicheng Railway Station in Zhangjiakou, China.
Statues of the Beijing Olympic mascots at Taizicheng Railway Station in Zhangjiakou, China. (Nectar Gan/CNN)
A thick partition separates the bus driver from the passengers inside the Olympic closed loop.
A thick partition separates the bus driver from the passengers inside the Olympic closed loop. (Nectar Gan/CNN)

Once you arrive at the media center, I wait half an hour for the bus to Qinghe station. Then the journey takes another 20 minutes.

The station is divided into two parts: one inside the Olympic bubble and one outside. We enter through a special door for Olympic staff into our own waiting room, with the main departure hall for local travelers isolated behind glass walls.

There is no paper train ticket, only a QR code obtained in advance on a phone application. The check-in process is completely contactless – just scan the code and walk through the door.

Qinghe Railway Station in Beijing.
Qinghe Railway Station in Beijing. (Nectar Gan/CNN)

On the platform, even the train itself is split: cars 1-5 are for those inside the bubble, and cars 6-8 are for travelers outside. A string of barricades prevents us from getting into the wrong cars.

Inside the train, everything looks new. The smell of disinfectant fills the air, pungent even through N-95 masks. Crew members all wear goggles or face shields, in addition to masks.

Boarding the high-speed train from Beijing to Zhangjiakou inside the closed Olympic loop.
Boarding the high-speed train from Beijing to Zhangjiakou inside the closed Olympic loop. (Nectar Gan/CNN)

The train ride itself is very comfortable. As we head northwest, the city landscape gives way to open fields and rural villages, cradled by brown mountains in the distance. We also pass wind turbines and solar panels. Beijing has claimed that the Winter Games are powered 100% by wind and solar power, mainly transported from Zhangjiakou.

The high-speed train that carries passengers between central Beijing and Zhangjiakou, two of the three "sectors" in the Olympic closed loop.
The high-speed train that carries passengers between central Beijing and Zhangjiakou, two of the three “zones” of the closed Olympic Loop. (Nectar Gan/CNN)

After 50 minutes, we arrive at Taizicheng station in Zhangjiakou. Coming off the train, the air is noticeably cooler – the temperature is about 10 degrees Celsius cooler than central Beijing. Parts of the ground are covered in white: it had snowed the day before, a station cleaner told me.

But further up the mountain, the white ski slopes are made of artificial snow – and they are ready for the start of the Games.


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