■ 22:54 (UTC+0800), 14 JAN 2016 | CHN CHAOYANGMEN, BEIJING
I don’t think I would have really allowed myself to be a “real” member of the London Transport Museum Friends society if I hadn’t been Tubed — as in travelled on all London Underground lines with regular revenue service. (And like 99% of us, I’ve probably never been on that extremely rare service from Amersham directly to Watford, missing Moor Park. BTW, skipping Kensington (Olympia) is counted as skipping a part of the Tube — since you do have regular service over at least weekends!)
At precisely 18:57:39 on 14 January 2016, a Daxing Line train, extraordinarily crowded until Xihongmen (where they’ve a ginormous IKEA with the obligatory Costa next to it), emptied itself of all riders, yours truly included, at the Tian’gongyuan terminus. That was it. I had completed all of the Beijing Subway opened to the public. And Beijing thus became the third city in the whole wide world (after Chengdu in 2013, and London in 2015) that I had travelled on its mass transit system across all lines in revenue service.
I actually was able to pull off this stunt earlier — in April 2008 — so strictly speaking, it would have been the first such system around the planet. But then the network quintupled itself, adding since that record Lines 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, and 15, as well as the Airport Express, and Changping, Daxing, Fangshan, and Yizhuang Lines. (They’re opening up that northwestern bit of Line 16, plus a host of other lines, later this year — as in 2016.) Meanwhile, I think I’ll keep my “all Tubed for London!” claim until at least the Met line grows into Watford Junction (shunning Watford Met when it’s done), giving the Metropolitan line at least its second encounter with the Overground (God knows when they’ll finally finish up West Hampstead so it’ll be a super-hub of sorts in northwestern London!).
One slight grudge I hold against the Beijing system is a lack of day travelcards or the daily cap, although if you were nuts enough to travel ¥100.— a day (about £10.—; easily doable in London, not so easily doable in Beijing), you’d get discounts. (Thankfully, the Yikatong city transit smartcard can wait for the entire calendar month, so you don’t have to spend ¥100.— on the Tubes of Beijing in one single day to qualify for cheaper fares.) I do hope, though, that the Beijing Subway can do daily travelcards — Shanghai’s just ¥18.— (equivalent to £1.80 in London — rarely pulled off unless you constrain yourself to a ridiculous small part of London — pretty much one zone only — way beyond Zone 1).
(And BTW I think Boris’s new gift in the form of Zone 2/3 is grammatically and arithmetically awkward — awful even — but Boris is still thanked my end for Beijing-ising fares.)
The new station I have absolutely come to yell for (not yell at) is Dawanglu. The city’s south HSR hub, Beijingnan (Beijing South) Railway Station, once was remotely inaccessible for CBD people — you in essence had to cram yourself onto a Line 1 train (stuffy it was!), and make yourself through the spaghetti interchange that was Xidan onto Line 4. Now, it really is a no-brainer — Line 14 provides direct access to the HSR hub. It also features wider trains than Line 4, and the new platform door alarms, whilst highly annoying, does do its bit in making sure no passengers try to dash in at the last second. I can imagine nothing better than leaving the CBD onto a direct connection to the HSR hub at Beijing South, all without having to change trains halfway through.
Alas, I also had a few “low points” throughout the whole trek. Whilst aptly named Coking Plant (if translated directly into English) and located next to abandoned heavy industry plants, the Jiaohuachang terminus on Line 7 was probably the least welcoming of all stations — especially if seen from street level. It did have that kind of “death, destruction, and decay” factor not atypical of abandoned industry estates. I also seriously disliked the platforms, concourses, and station buildings for a fair number of the underground stations on the Yizhuang Line — upkeep was awfully minimal, and the lighting faded into “the wrong kind of yellow” — an extremely depressing shade of that colour. Finally, a fair number of Line 6 and Line 10 stations also had really depressing lighting issues — again, minimal upkeep meaning rather dark platforms (every bit as unpleasant, sadly, as those on the hastily-completed tofu-dreg-ish equivalent in London, the Victoria line).
Other than that, though, the Beijing network is now so good (and so well-developed), I now leave my car at home at least two or more days a week (once when it’s blocked by road-rationing rules, the other time when I have to do a lot of travelling inside central Beijing, or travel exclusively by HSR across cities in China). I’m now thinking of getting a more greener, more environmentally-friendly car (for longer distances in the city) whilst also swapping my current fuel guzzler for a manual (for a nice countryside drive — while the UK may have great views outside the M25, we’re sold in China we’ve better ones still!). There will be a time when theses cars will be there in the garage, solely as backups — and when I’ll be in the Subway all the time. We are promised a thousand kilometres by 2020, and a thousand miles just a few years after the 2022 Winter Olympics. By that time, I’ll probably build a Car Museum — and forget driving those gas-guzzling monsters altogether…! ■ ■ ■