Line opening puts Beijing rail plan on track
Staff Reporter in Beijing
The main line of Beijing's first light railway system opened to the public yesterday, the first part of a 6.5 billion yuan (HK$6.09 billion) scheme to shorten travel times and cut congestion in the city.
The new line, known both as City Rail and the No 13 line - despite there being only two other lines operating in the capital - covers nine stations in the Haidian district, home to most of Beijing's universities and the Zhongguancun high-technology area. The entire length of track is elevated. The section of line opened yesterday runs from Xizhimen, the site of an existing station, to Huoying in north Beijing.
By the end of January, the entire 40.8km, 16-station line will be open to the public.
People hoping to be first on board gathered at the elevated Xizhimen stop yesterday, and police officers let in groups of 50 people at a time to control crowding.
All of the three-carriage trains were packed. City Rail, which will cut a horseshoe-shaped path along the northern urban perimeter of Beijing, is designed to ease traffic congestion.
During peak times, it will carry between 30,000 and 60,000 passengers in each direction per hour, according to local reports.
Beijing is also building a similar line to serve the eastern suburbs and another to the site of the 2008 Olympic Village is to be built.
A Tsinghua University architecture student who got off at the new Wudaokou station yesterday said he had sometimes spent up to an hour commuting along busy roads from the university to the previous closest subway stop.
However, he was worried the City Rail system would cause crowding by encouraging people to board carriages out of curiosity.
Zhongguancun and other parts of northwest Beijing are the most congested, with 1.8 million cars on the road and 250,000 more being added every year as the city booms and property developers expand the northern urban boundary.
Passengers yesterday said they were relieved, but not impressed with the light railway.
'The project has taken a long time,' said one.
The line does not reach his neighbourhood, but he said it would be convenient when more stations opened.
Li Ming, a Peking University student, said she could still reach the city's centre faster via bus rather than by walking from campus to the nearest City Rail stop.
'The Peking University gate is really close, so I might just keep taking the bus,' she said.