At other times, trains can still sell out but it's usually possible to secure seats or sleepers a few days ahead. If you run an enquiry on for today, tomorrow or a few days time, you'll see how many tickets are left in each class for each train.
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
You can travel there easily & cheaply by Beijing Subway (see Beijing subway map) for just RMB 4 (50p, $0.70), allow 40 minutes for the subway journey.
Or you can take a taxi, the taxi fare from central Beijing to Beijing West is around RMB 35 (4, $6), allow at least 30 minutes for the taxi ride. Beijing West is large and busy, so arrive in plenty of time for your train, perhaps 40 minutes before your train leaves. When you reach the station, you enter the station through a ticket & ID check at any one of the various entrances, see the photo above.
China has one of the biggest and busiest rail networks in the world, and trains link almost every town & city.
Chinese trains are a safe, comfortable & cheap way to travel around China, and a Chinese train journey is an experience in itself, in contrast with less reliable and environmentally-unfriendly internal flights.
But there's plenty of availability in all classes tomorrow (2nd August) including 13 seats in business class and 36 seats in 1st class and 617 in 2nd class.
Collecting your tickets at Beijing railway station ticket office...
However, a temporary shortening to 30 days in early 2017 seems to have become permanent.
Yes they do, and most long-distance trains get fully-booked days ahead.
The office is to the right of the main building, accessed directly from the forecourt. You can collect from any ticket window, although there's an English speaking window if you like... Beijing station is in central Beijing, 3 km from Tiananmen Square.