In urban China, you can use your smartphone to do just about everything, from renting a bike to ordering food in a restaurant. But curiously, unless you live in a major city like Beijing and Shanghai, there’s one simple thing you still can’t do electronically: Board a national train.

That’s going to change next year when China makes digital train tickets available nationwide. Trials have begun at the high-speed rail line in Hainan, a southern resort island that’s known as China’s Hawaii. Passengers can check in with the national ID that they used to purchase their e-ticket online, or by scanning a QR code on China Railway’s ticketing app. No paper ticket is required.

As slow and unpopular as trains are in America, eTickets have been available on Amtrak since 2012. On the other hand, in most places in China you still need to collect a physical ticket from a train station or have it mailed to you in advance, even if the seat was booked and paid for online.

That means passengers waste precious time lining up at a ticket window, especially during major holidays like Lunar New Year and Golden Week when the wait can take up to several hours. It also leads to a severe waste of paper: During Spring Festival alone this year, it was estimated that 393 million people traveled on trains. Imagine how many paper tickets were printed.

Crowds gather at a train station in Beijing -- one of the few places in China where electronic boarding is available -- two weeks before Lunar New Year 2018. Imagine what it was like elsewhere in the country. (Picture: Kyodo)

Unsurprisingly, people are welcoming the digital upgrade.

“Finally don’t have to pick up that damned paper,” one Weibo user wrote.

But some are also lamenting the end of an era.

“I’m preserving all the paper tickets I have,” said another user.