A new subway line was opened yesterday in Beijing, the first to link the northern and southern parts of the capital, in an attempt to ease traffic congestion ahead of next year's Olympics. The 27.6km No5 line is expected to help improve air quality in a city notorious for pollution. The authorities hope it will help make journeys to and from Olympics events convenient and comfortable. The line took nearly five years and 12 billion yuan to build, and has 23 stations from Tiantongyuan North Station in the northern Changping district to Songjiazhuang Station in southern Fengtai district. The journey takes around 40 minutes, while commuting by bus or car can take more than two hours. 'We hope the new subway line will help reduce congestion. However, it is unrealistic to hope it will solve all the problems completely,' said Liu Xiaoming , deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications. According to World Bank statistics, an average vehicle's speed during peak hours on arterial roads between Beijing's second and third ring roads was 45km/h in 1994. It was below 10km/h in 2005, slower than the average speed of a bicycle. Beijing officials have publicly admitted that the capital's traffic congestion is a recurring headache. Visits to Hong Kong have been arranged for officials including Mayor Wang Qishan to study the city's experience in traffic system design and management. 'Urban public transport should be given priority ... and the related services should be improved consistently,' Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan said at yesterday's opening ceremony. Carriages on the new line are spacious, air-conditioned, quiet and have LCD screens showing information about stations along the route. 'The new carriages are so modern - totally different from those on the old lines. I like it!' said Zhao Mengsheng , a 26-year-old office clerk. Beijing's No 1 and No 2 subway lines, built in the 1960s and '70s, account for more than 11 per cent of daily trips made by Beijing passengers. But the old lines have been criticised as overcrowded, uncomfortable and not air-conditioned. The two lines, together with the No 13 line in the north and the Batong line in the east, carry 1.15 million passengers daily, 15 per cent of all the trips made in Beijing each day. Beijing is planning to add three more subway lines next year.