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5 Subway Lines Debut in Beijing

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Beijing opened five new subway lines Thursday, an urban planning show of force highlighting the investment the city has thrown behind public transport to curb its notorious air pollution and traffic congestion.

Costing nearly 61 billion yuan (US$9.2 billion), the newly constructed lines - most connecting the distant and dusty suburbs to the city center - bring Beijing's subway network to 336 kilometers.

That distance is just a fraction of what the city government has planned, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said at the unveiling of the No. 15 line.

Beijing aims to have a 561-kilometer-long subway network by 2015, and is planning for between 700 and 1,000 kilometers by 2020, said Li Xiaosong, deputy director of the commission.

"If we are comparing ourselves to London, New York or Tokyo, we are still in the early stages of development, but this shows the Beijing government's strategic investment priority in public transport," Li said.

At rush hour on some central lines, queues with the city's 5.3 million daily riders can be three and four trains deep. Platform attendants often press arms and legs in behind closing train doors.

The city has invested more than 250 billion yuan in rail and road links over the past five years, 51 percent of which went to public transport, Li said.

With the flurry of subway construction, city leaders are attempting to make good on promises to clean up Beijing's skies and clear traffic gridlock.

In January, Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong promised to give greater priority to public transport by building bus lanes and new subway lines and removing high-emission vehicles from the road.

Beijing's plans to boost public transport are all the more urgent with this month's announcement of a quota on new passenger vehicles in 2011, limiting new registrations to 20,000 a month.

But indicative of the woes of planning transportation in a city of 19 million, increased subway access for Beijing's suburbanites may exacerbate the network's overcapacity issues before it makes them better, according to the transport commission.

(Shanghai Daily December 31, 2010)