Something in Beijing is celebrating its birthday today!
The city’s mammoth subway train network, officially called Běijīng dìtiě 北京地铁 (Beijing Subway), is celebrating the 48th anniversary of the day it opened to the public in 1969, making it China’s oldest subway network. It took 39 years — or the time of the 2008 Summer Olympics — before Beijing had a line going to the capital airport. Since then, the network has grown rapidly with 11 lines built in a span of eight years after the Olympics.
And since we started with a tidbit, let’s continue with some interesting details about the Beijing Subway.
At the time of writing, the whole network is composed of 19 lines, 345 stations (70 are above the ground), and 574km of track in operation. Construction on other lines and stations is underway, including four new networks that will link Beijing with Hebei Province as soon as 2021, according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission.
It’s massive and the busiest subway network in the world. According to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, the Beijing Subway’s annual ridership amounted to 3.66 billion in 2016, with more than 10 million people riding the trains every day.
Its busiest lines are Line 10 (the loop along the Third Ring Road), Line 4, Line 13 (the overground line), and Line 5, with authorities saying these lines “are all overloaded, sometimes at 120 percent of planned capacity.” That being said, the stations are notoriously crowded usually between 8-10am and 5-7pm, so you might need to prepare your survival instincts. In the morning, be prepared to smell something putrid coming from the mouths and the bodies of some passengers. Yikes.
The Beijing Subway uses the yīkǎtōng 一卡通 contactless fare smart card, similar to the Oyster Card of London’s transport system, the Octopus Card of Hong Kong and the Beep Card of Manila’s MRT/LRT. Yīkǎtōng, which literally means “one card pass,” can be also used for buses, public bikes, and the Airport Transport Express. The card can be bought with a RMB 20 deposit (and can be returned at selected stations) and be topped up in units of RMB 10 in reloading machines at subway stations.
Upon the development of the subway system, Chinese officials demolished the inner walls and gates of Beijing’s city fortifications. Some subway stations were named after the demolished gates like Xizhimen and Dongzhimen. And speaking of names, many of the stations have interesting meanings, just like the ones we’ve recently featured in our Subway Sunday column.
For tourists, there are stations that are just by or directly below some attractions. Line 1, for example, is what you will take when you want to visit the Forbidden City.
So there you go, those are the fun facts about this mammoth subterranean railway network in Beijing! With its continuous development, I’m sure there’ll be more interesting tidbits that I can share in the future.
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