Demand for answers as gridlock returns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 September, 2010, 12:00am

The recurrence of massive traffic congestion northwest of Beijing - said to be the longest tailback in the world - has prompted state media to start pointing the finger of blame.

With vehicles taking several days to travel a 120-kilometre stretch, the focus turned to calls for official apologies and explanations for what has caused gridlock on such a scale.

State media have started asking whether poor road design could be the cause, and whether so many trucks need to use the route. Xinhua even went a step further, issuing an editorial demanding an apology from the 'relevant departments'.

The enormous tailback built up this week on National Highway No 110, the Beijing-Tibet Expressway, along a section spanning the border between Inner Mongolia and Hebei province.

The bulk of the traffic is made up of trucks taking coal from Inner Mongolia to the capital and the coast.

The inland province has massive coal reserves and it has been estimated that as many as half the trucks in China ply the route to take the valuable energy source to the power-hungry coast.

The gridlock turned more than 120 kilometres of the motorway into a vast car park on Thursday, with traffic regularly at a complete standstill for long periods of time.

According to mainland media reports, only the southbound carriageway was affected, up to a point about 200km northwest of the capital.

However, there were reports that the blockage was finally beginning to clear yesterday after emergency efforts by police and highway staff to ease the congestion.

Extra toll gates have been opened on the southeast-bound carriageway in an attempt to speed up the flow of traffic.

A China Central Television report said truck drivers had been expecting the delays and had come prepared with extra supplies of food and water.

The reporter said the amount of time heavy trucks needed to restart their engines after they had been stationary for a time meant they were not able to respond quickly when traffic started moving again, and this was contributing to the congestion.

She said police and highway staff had begun patrolling the tailback to get drivers to start their engines earlier and to rouse ones who had fallen asleep while waiting.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said one of the reasons for the backlog of vehicles could be traffic restrictions imposed on the motorway in Hebei province, on the way to Beijing.

Heavy goods vehicles are not allowed to use the route from Badaling between 6am and 3pm to ensure tourist traffic is able to get to and from the popular Great Wall scenic spot.

The stretch of road that clogged up this week is infamous for traffic jams, with local drivers saying they experience 'minor congestion every three days and major congestion every 10 days', China News Service reported.

It made international headlines last month when traffic came to a virtual standstill for an eight-day period.

The surreal images of thousands of stranded vehicles and truck drivers playing cards on gridlocked roads in the middle of nowhere quickly bounced around the world.

The latest traffic build-up started on Friday of last week - just four days after the previous jam cleared - but began to reach its peak on Wednesday.

Slow progress

The current area of congestion stretches for about 120 kilometres

The number of days last month that traffic on the same section of highway was at a standstill: 8