From increased services to reduced pollution, China looks set to benefit from rail improvements made for the Olympics. Howard Johnston reports.
By an absolute majority in the second round of voting in July 2001, China's capital and second-largest city, Beijing, was awarded the 2008 Olympics (8–24 August; Paralympics 6–17 September). As with other Games in the modern era, proposals in respect of transport arrangements were part of the bidding process for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. Beijing Organising Committee for the Games (BOCOG) was subsequently set up to oversee the implementation of the event.
MORE THAN JUST SPORT
As was the case with regional neighbour Japan in 1964, China is able to use the hosting of the Games as a showcase to the world, not just in the sporting arena, of a modern, important and much-changed country. Not in itself crucial to Olympics-related transport, the similarity extends to the launching of high-speed rail, with the first Shinkansen/Bullet Train service shortly preceding the opening of the Tokyo Games.
Using a combination of Siemens Velaro CRH 3 and Sifang Locomotive and Rolling Stock-produced CRH units, China is due to start its first true high-speed services on the Tianjin-Beijing line in July 2008. With the service and the 117km (73 mile) line built with 350km/h (217mph) capability being a shop window for China and its booming railway industry, these two Olympic venue cities will have the previous 70min journey time cut to around 30min.
The majority of sports will be contested at venues within the greater Beijing area, the greatest concentration being at the Olympic Green development on the northern end of the city axis near the Fifth Ring Road. Around 10km from the city centre, Olympic Green includes the 91,000-seat National Stadium and the Olympic Village. Aside from this area, most of the other Beijing venues are also in the north of the city.
The football tournament leading to the finals at the National Stadium affords China the opportunity to spread the Games to other stadiums around the north of the country: Qinhuangdao, Shenyang and Tianjin. Being a sport that has a large and regular following, the transportation and processing of crowds is thus more established in such locations. More remote from Beijing are venues at Shanghai (football), Qingdao (sailing) and, transferred there due to concerns over guarantees of a disease-free zone, Hong Kong (equestrian). The latter already possesses a comprehensive and modern public transport system.
The major categories of transport demand are for overseas visitors between airports and central Beijing; travel within the city to and from venues, primarily those at Olympic Green; also for Chinese nationals from any number of locations to and from Beijing. Chinese aviation expansion and rail-based projects have made international headlines, but local road transport is at every bit as crucial to the operation of the events, especially for officials and competitors. The authorities have identified 38 official public transit routes and envisaged a mixed fleet of 7,000 buses and minibuses operating in connection with the Games.
RACING FROM THE AIRPORT
Widely reported when in early 2008 it opened the Foster & Partners-designed third terminal, the world's largest airport building, Beijing Capital International Airport is the principal gateway for foreign visitors. Around 500,000 of these are expected and the airport is also used by domestic flights. To cope with the distances involved with Terminal 3, a 2km (1.2 mile) Bombardier Transportation CX-100 automatic people mover system from has been installed, with a capacity of 3,840 people per hour in each direction.
The airport's growth reflects that of the country and its economy in recent years. Located 26km (15 miles) north-east of the city centre, it is destined to gain its first rail link a few weeks before the Olympics begin. Terminating at Subway interchange Dongzhimen and branching into two arms at the airport end to serve Terminals 2 and 3, the limited-stop Airport Line has 4km of underground running and a 23km elevated section.
With 110km/h running, as opposed to the 80km/h maximum on the Subway, the end-to-end time should be around 16min. Similar to those used on the Vancouver Skytrain network, rolling stock will be 40 ART Mark11 units from Bombardier in association with a Chinese manufacturer, Changchun Railway Vehicles.
HEAVY LIFT - BEIJING SUBWAY
Having an inadequate four lines prior to the start of Olympics preparation, a much-expanded Beijing Subway will carry the greatest load of passengers in connection with the Games. From the opening of the first line of the Subway in 1969, China's first metro, the 1,435mm 750V dc third rail system has grown to feature a range of line and stock variations. Pre-Olympic expansions, the system was handling approximately 1.5 million journeys daily.
A key link from the city centre to Olympic venues is the 27.6km Line 5. Opened in October 2007, it was the first on a north-south axis. It will give an interchange with the new Line 10, due to open in June 2008, providing east-west coverage of Olympic venues in the north. In the much longer term, the plan is for Line 10 to be greatly extended from its initial 24.6km length to create an outer loop line.
With connections with Line 10 at Andinglu and Xiongmao-huandao, the vital new 4.4km Olympic Spur (Line 8) that runs beneath Olympic Green was reported by local press as being ready for trial runs by early June, prior to revenue services beginning a few weeks later.
OLYMPIAN RESCUE FROM POLLUTION?
Data for the city and its metropolitan area vary appreciably between sources, but it is clear that Beijing had not developed a public transport capability appropriate to accommodating at least 15 million people and an urban area of around 16,5000km². With much coal burning by industry and residents in the city, plus fallout from the equally industrialised hinterland, Beijing's pollution has further been exacerbated by rising affluence encouraging greater car ownership.
This trend has also been stimulated by inadequacies of the public transport system. Over three million vehicles have been added to Beijing roads within the last five years, with traffic frequently kept idling in jams that are not the preserve of the rush hours. Indicating the seriousness that BOCOG attaches to pollution in terms of affecting competitors, visitors and the reputation of the host city, closures of some heavy polluters and severe restrictions on private vehicle use was announced in early 2008.
Aimed at giving some respite from the worst of the summer smog during the vital weeks, some longer-term relief for residents may eventually become apparent from the spate of urban rail building triggered by becoming host city to the 2008 Games. Although Beijing Subway crawled up to four lines before the Games were announced, work on the new lines subsequently has had the intensity of a sprint that will bring the system up to around 200km route length. Something more akin to a marathon is apparent in the longer-term programme beyond the Olympics. This aims to make the Beijing Subway a system of around 550km of by 2020.
Hosting an Olympics can leave lots of under-used sporting arenas and a financial headache lasting for years after the two-week high of the Games themselves, as for Montréal which cleared the debt for the 1976 Olympics at the end of 2006. Frustrating perhaps that it needs such an event to trigger the changes, what is more welcome is that greatly improved public transport frequently appears to be a truly useful and enduring legacy for the residents and future visitors.
With clear examples from the past of completely new systems or expansions in the transport infrastructure apparent in Tokyo (1964), Munich (1972) and Athens (2004), Beijing looks set to win in this field as well with the summer Games of 2008.