The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing have thrust the importance of quality urban public transport into the world spotlight. Indeed, there has often been greater interest shown in how the city will cope with the influx of visitors than the great sporting event itself.
Top of the agenda has been finding a solution to Beijing's acute air pollution, but the several years spent developing the urban rail network with 202km (92.8 miles) of new fixed track is paying off. Sceptics wondered if the city authorities could deliver the goods, but subway extensions, and the new link to the airport, have been delivered precisely on schedule. It is in no small measure due to the country's increasing international confidence that rail investment is now seen worthy of two thirds of the nation's entire transport budget.
Beijing has always believed that it could do the business, although its citizens have suffered some draconian restrictions on their liberty in the final build-up to the 24 August–17 September event. New laws have focused heavily on turning the reputed 17 million population from road use (there are 3.3 million cars in use and half of them have been impounded) to the upgraded local rail network and 3,000 new buses on 34 routes.
OPEN ON SCHEDULE
The new metro lines opened, alongside the airport express service, in the middle of July 2008. This was a remarkable contrast to what was supplied for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece; its hallmarks were lateness and indifferent construction quality.
An extra 1.1 million people are expected to use Beijing's new fixed transport system during the Games, although around 10,700 of them are competing athletes. To take the strain, some sporting events are being staged at other venues, including Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, Tianjin, Shanghai, Qingdao and Hong Kong.
Beijing has spent $16bn (€10.2bn) in the last decade to improve air quality as well as building better transport infrastructure.
EASY JOURNEY FROM THE AIRPORT
The new Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport , the world's largest air terminal, is a high-class example of the city's commitment to integrated transport investment, not least because of the almost seamless journey to the city centre now possible.
Around 500,000 international visitors have been expected for the Games, who have to be accommodated on top of domestic visitors. They are well served by the new Bombardier Transportation CX-100 driverless people mover system, which has the capability of moving 3,840 people per hour in each direction, 15 hours a day.
Starting at subway interchange station Dongzhimen and quickly splitting to serve Terminals 2 and 3, the limited-stop Airport Line has 4km (2.5 miles) of underground running and 23km (14.5 miles) on elevation. Its 110km/h (70mph) speed capability, compared to the 80km/h (50mph) maximum on the subway, means end-to-end journey schedules of 16min.
Bombardier based the design of 40 automatic trains on the Vancouver Skytrain and New York Air Train systems. By Chinese government decree there was also domestic manufacturing and assembly input from Changchun Railway Vehicles (CRV).
By refusing them access to the road network on certain days, Beijing car owners are almost compelled to use the newly expanded subway.
China's first metro exhibits evidence of protracted investment with a wide variation of equipment procured from a mixed collection of manufacturers, mostly Chinese. The only common theme seems to be that all collect power from the 750V dc third rail.
Now, somewhat regardless of the Olympics and in direct response to the demand for emissions to be reduced, network expansion is now expected to accelerate. It could grow to 550km (340 miles) in little over a decade, almost three times its present size.
Immediate investment approval however, spurred by winning the 2008 Olympics, has provided a new 27.6km (16.5 mile) Line 5 with 23 stations as a new north-south corridor, which conveniently interchanges with the brand new Line 10. This 24km (15 mile) line, with 22 stations and six interchanges, provides easier access to the sports villages in the north of the city. An all-important new 4.4km (2.7 mile) link runs directly beneath Olympic Green, 10km (6 miles) from the centre of the city.
The new metro lines have been provided with the latest signalling and control equipment from Siemens. The automatic train system Trainguard employs the 'moving block' principle, which enables trains to operate at very short headways. Data is exchanged between the train and the trackside via a wireless network.
Headways of 90 seconds are possible on Line 10. It is the first time in the world that the data required to protect trains is transferred between the vehicle and trackside by means of a fail-safe WLAN data link, as part of the Communication Based Train Control System (CBTC).
HIGH SPEED JUST IN TIME
High-speed travel into China has arrived just in time for the Olympic Games, providing a new 30-minute service between Beijing and Tianjin.
June 24 2008 was a scene-stealing milestone day when the Siemens Velaro CRH3 train set a new rail speed record of 394.3km/h in China. It only took the train 25m 10s to make the 115km (71.5 miles) trip from Tianjin to Beijing. In regular service, the trains will run at 350km/h (217mph).
A 1 August deadline was set for five CRH3 trains to start running between the two Olympic sports venues, part of an eventual fleet of 60 Velaros.
Three of them have been built in Krefeld in Germany, while the other 57 units come from China Northern's Tangshan Locomotive & Rolling Stock Works.
Looking forward, government approval has been given for 147km of new line from Kowloon to Guangzhou, which is part of the grander plan to link the former British colony with Shenzen.
By 2020, China plans to expand its high-speed network close to 10,000km, including routes from Beijing to Guangzhou and Harbin, Shenzhen to Dalian and Ningbo, and Xian to Xuzhow.
As well as slashing journey times, the new 1,300km (800 mile) Beijing-Shanghai line will fuel economic growth in the Bohai and Yangtze river delta regions.
These two regions are occupied by a quarter of China's 1.3 billion population and provide two fifths of its industrial output.
A major problem, however, is that the estimated building cost has quadrupled since the scheme was first mooted in the early 1990s, a consequence of land price inflation and vastly increased labour wage bills. Nevertheless, China's rail progress is set to continue.