Transportation in China and the Evolution of Beijing’s Subways

Chinese transportation system

China now has the longest high-speed rail system in the world

China boasts an impressive population of just over 1.3billion citizens. China covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles). It is the world’s second-largest country by land area. China is made up of 22 provinces within 5 regions. Transportation in mainland China has been prioritized by the government in recent decades, as it has undergone intense state-led development since the late 1990s. The national road network has been massively expanded through the creation of a network of expressways, known as the National Trunk Highway System (NTHS). By 2011, China’s expressways had reached a total length of 74,000 km (46,000 mi), second only to the road network of the United States.

China possesses the world’s longest high-speed rail network, with over 4,618 mi (7,432 km) of service routes. Some trains reach top speeds of 220 mph (350 km/h). Domestic air travel has also increased significantly, but remains too expensive for the large majority of citizens. Long-distance transportation is dominated by railways and charter bus systems. Railways are the vital carrier in China; they are monopolized by the state, divided into various railway bureaus in different regions. Due to huge demand, the system is regularly subject to overcrowding, particularly during holiday seasons, such as Chunjie during the Chinese New Year.

Rapid transit systems are also quickly developing in China’s major cities, in the form of networks of underground or light rail systems. Hong Kong has one of the most developed transport systems in the world, while Shanghai has a high-speed Mag-lev rail line connecting the city to its main international airport, Pudong International Airport.

Beijing, as the capital of China, is a transport hub, with a sophisticated network of roads, railways and a major airport. Five completed ring roads encircle a city with nine expressways heading in virtually all compass directions, supplemented by eleven China National Highways.

Beijing's Subway System

With the 4th most rail in the world, Beijing has one of the most advanced networks

The Beijing Subway is a rapid transit rail network that serves the urban and suburban districts of Beijing municipality. It is owned by the city of Beijing and has two operators, the wholly state owned Beijing Mass Transit Railway Operation Corp., which operates 12 lines, and the Beijing MTR Corp., a public-private joint-venture with the Hong Kong MTR, which manages 2 lines.

The subway’s first line opened in 1969, and has now developed to a network of 14 lines, 172 stations and 336 km (209 mi) of track in operation. It is the oldest subway in mainland China, and the second in length after the Shanghai Metro.

Among the world’s metro systems, the Beijing Subway ranks fourth in track length after the metros of Shanghai, London and New York, and fifth in annual ridership after those of Tokyo, Moscow, Seoul, and Shanghai.

In 2010, the Beijing Subway delivered over 1.8 billion rides, and on September 9, 2011, set a single-day record of 7.57 million. All but two of Beijing Subway’s 14 lines were built within the past decade. On December 30, 2010, five lines, Line 15, Changping, Fangshan,Yizhuang and Daxing, entered into operation. Despite this rapid expansion, with some measures of the population numbering over 22 million people, the existing network cannot adequately meet the city’s mass transit needs and extensive expansion plans call for 19 lines and over 660 km (410 mi) of track in operation by 2015 and 1,000 km (620 mi) by 2020. The Chinese government’s ¥4 trillion economic stimulus package has accelerated subway construction. The network is set to reach 420 km (260 mi) by 2012.

An early plan unveiled in 1957 called for one ring route and six other lines with a total of 114 stations and 172 km (107 mi) of tracks. Two routes vied for the first to be built. One ran east-west from Wukesong to Hongmiao, underneath Chang’An Avenue, which runs through Tiananmen Square. The other ran north-south from the Summer Palace to Zhongshan Park, via Xizhimen and Xisi. The former was chosen due to a more favorable geological foundation and greater number of government bureaus served. The second route would not be built until construction on Line 4 began forty years later.

A Timeline of Beijing’s Subway System

1965–1981: The Slow Beginning

Construction began on July 1, 1965, at a ceremony attended by national leaders including Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping, and Mayor Peng Zhen. The most controversial outcome of the initial subway line was the demolition of the Beijing’s historic inner city wall to make way for the subway. Construction plans for the subway from Fuxingmen to the Beijing Railway Station called for the removal of the wall, as well as the gates and archery towers at Hepingmen, Qianmen, and Chongwenmen.

Tiananmen Square in Beijing

The first line in constructed in Beijing goes through the heart of the city, under Tiananment Sq.

The initial line was completed in time to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, 1969. It ran 21 km from the army barracks at Fushouling to the Beijing Railway Station and had 16 stations. This line forms parts of present-day Lines 1 and 2. On January 15, 1971, the initial line began operation on a trial basis between the Beijing Railway Station and Gongzhufen. Single ride fare was set at ¥0.10 and only members of the public with credential letters from their work units were permitted entry into the subway. The line delivered 8.28 million rides in 1971 but remained under trial operation throughout the Cultural Revolution. From 1971 to 1975, the subway was shut down for 398 days for political reasons. Despite its return to civilian control in 1976, the subway remained prone to closures due to fires, flooding, and accidents.

1981–2000: Two Lines For Two Decades

On September 15, 1981, after a decade of trial operation, the initial line was finally opened to full public use. It had 19 stations and ran 27.6 km (17.1 mi) from Fushouling in the Western Hills to the Beijing Railway Station. Investment in the project totaled ¥706 million. The subway was placed under the management of the Beijing Subway Company, then a subsidiary of the Beijing Public Transportation Company. Annual ridership reached 72.5 million in 1982. The Wangfujing station opened in 1999 as part of Line 1’s eastward extension from Fuxingmen.

On September 20, 1984, a second line was opened to the public. This horseshoe-shaped line was created from the eastern half of the initial line and corresponds to the southern half of the present-day Line 2. It ran 16.1 km (10.0 mi) from Fuxingmen to Jianguomen with 16 stations. Ridership reached 105 million passengers in 1985. On December 28, 1987, the two existing lines were reconfigured into Lines 1, which ran from Pingguoyuantou Fuxingmen and Line 2, in its current loop, tracing the Ming city wall. Fares doubled to ¥0.20 for single-line rides and ¥0.30 for rides with transfers. Ridership reached 307 million in 1988. The subway was closed from June 3–4, 1989 during the suppression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. In 1990, the subway carried more than one million riders per day for the first time, as total ridership reached 381 million. After a fare hike to ¥0.50 in 1991, annual ridership declined slightly to 371 million.

On January 26, 1991, planning began on the eastward extension of Line 1 under Chang’an Avenue from Fuxingmen. The project was funded by a 19.2 billion yen low-interest development assistance loan from Japan. Construction began on the eastern extension on June 24, 1992, and the Xidan station opened on December 12, 1992. The remaining extension to Sihui East was completed on September 28, 1999. National leaders Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Yu Zhengsheng and mayor Liu Qi were on hand to mark the occasion. The full-length of Line 1 became operational on June 28, 2000.
Despite little track expansion in the early 1990s, ridership grew rapidly to reach an all-time high of 558 million in 1995, but fell to 444 million the next year when fares rose from ¥0.50 to ¥2.00. After fares rose again to ¥3.00 in 2000, annual ridership fell to 434 million from 481 million in 1999.

2001–Present: Rapid Expansion

In the summer of 2001, the city won the bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics and accelerated plans to expand the subway. From 2002 and 2008, the city planned to invest ¥63.8 billion (US$7.69 billion) in subway projects. Work on Line 5 had already begun on September 25, 2000. Land clearing for Lines 4 and 10 began in November 2003 and construction commenced by the end of the year.

Most new subway construction projects were funded by loans from the Big Four state banks. Line 4 was funded by the Beijing MTR Corporation, a joint-venture with the Hong Kong MTR. To achieve plans for 19 lines and 561 km (349 mi) by 2015, the city planned to invest a total of ¥200 billion ($29.2 billion). The next additions to the subway were surface commuter lines that linked to the north and east of the city. Line 13, a half loop that links the northern suburbs, first opened on the western half from Huilongguan to Xizhimen on September 28, 2002 and the entire line became operational on January 28, 2003. Batong Line, built as an extension to Line 1 to Tongzhou district, was opened as a separate line on December 27, 2003. Work on these two lines had begun respectively in December 1999 and 2000. Ridership hit 607 million in 2004.

Jintai Xizhao Station in Beijing

More lines and stations are coming out in Beijing every year.

Line 5 came into operation on October 7, 2007. It was the city’s first north-south line, extending from the Songjiazhuang in the south to Tiantongyuan in the north. On the same day, subway fares were reduced from between ¥3 and ¥7 per trip, where the actual amount depended on the line and number of transfers, to a single flat fare of ¥2 with unlimited transfers. The lower fare policy caused the Beijing Subway to run a deficit of ¥600 million in 2007, which was expected to widen to ¥1 billion in 2008. The Beijing municipal government covered these deficits to encourage mass transit use, and reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. On a total of 655 million rides delivered in 2007, the government’s subsidy averaged ¥0.92 per ride.

In the summer of 2008, in anticipation of the Summer Olympic Games, three new lines—Line 10, the Olympic Branch Line and the Airport Express were opened on July 19 for trial operation. The use of paper tickets, hand checked by clerks for 38 years, was discontinued and replaced by electronic tickets that are scanned by automatic fare collection machines upon entry and exit of the subway. Stations were also outfitted with touch screen vending machines that sell single-ride tickets and multiple-ride Yikatong fare cards. The subway also hit a daily ridership record of 4.92 million on August 22, 2008, the day of the Games’ closing ceremony In 2008, total ridership rose by 75% to 1.2 billion.

After the Chinese government announced a major economic stimulus package in November 2008, Beijing urban planning commission further expedited subway building plans, especially for surface light rails to suburban districts that are cheaper to build. In December 2008, the commission moved up completion dates of the Yizhuang and Daxing Lines to 2010 from 2012, finalized the route of the Fangshan Line, and unveiled the Changping and Western Suburban Lines.

Line 4 entered into operation on September 28, 2009, bringing subway service to much of western Beijing. It is managed by the Hong Kong MTR through a joint venture with the city. In 2009, the subway delivered 1.457 billion rides, which accounted for 19.24% of mass transit trips in Beijing.

On December 30, 2010, Lines 15, Changping, Fangshan, Yizhuang and Daxing, all suburban lines, opened for operation. The addition of 108 km (67 mi) of tracks, a nearly 50% increase, officially made the Beijing Subway the fourth longest metro of the world, just behind the New York City Subway.

  • John Allen- CPG Business Intelligence Intern

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