Capital's $6b commuter railway completed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2003, 12:00am

Beijing's first above-ground commuter railway, a 40.8 km line cutting through the Zhongguancun hi-tech district and the city's biggest housing complexes, has been completed.

City Rail has become fully operational after four months of partial operations following trial runs.

It is intended to reduce heavy commuter traffic in north Beijing, and runs between the Xizhimen and Dongzhimen stations on the existing subway line.

There are 16 stations, including Tsinghua University, the Huilongguan low-income housing complex and Wangjing, a district that includes one of Beijing's largest commercial housing developments. Construction of the line cost 6.5 billion yuan (HK$6.1 billion), according to state press.

The Lunar New Year holiday meant City Rail was packed this week, as travellers checked the trains out for the first time.

Without the subway, commuters travelling from north Beijing to the city centre face a car or bus journey of up to two hours. The new rail line takes an hour or less. City Rail, also called Line No 13, even though only two other lines are open, will carry 30,000 to 60,000 passengers in each direction every hour during rush hour, according to the China Times.

But several passengers yesterday complained the City Rail route was neither time-saving nor convenient. Wangjing resident Li Baoyuan said he would have to take the subway, then change to City Rail and finally board a bus to reach his office near People's University.

The price of a ticket is three yuan, or five yuan to transfer to a subway. Mr Li said the prices were disproportionately high for local incomes. City Rail should charge one yuan like buses, he said, until incomes increase.

Shell Oil employee Jessie Yu said City Rail was not any more convenient than her current 90-minute commute.

She was waiting for Beijing's 27.6 km No 5 subway line to Olympic Village to open in 2006. But she and her husband, Zheng Yinda, were generally in favour of City Rail. 'It's quite good. The city needs it. Traffic jams are everywhere,' Mr Zheng said.

But passengers reported some problems with the stations. Entrances and exits are not clearly marked, some lack parking spaces and others do not have organised bicycle parking, which is a big draw for Beijing commuters.

Services are also less regular than other subway lines, and the last train leaves at 9pm, two hours earlier than the last subway train.

Each City Rail train has three carriages, each half the length of a subway train. Contrary to promotional posters that picture a bullet train, City Rail has ordinary trains that move at traffic speed. Because Beijing is also building a faster light-rail line near the eastern suburb of Tongzhou, some passengers yesterday confused City Rail with the unfinished project.