Qianmen trams

April 24th, 2008

I think I’ll have to get myself down to Qianmen with a camera some time in the next couple of weeks. It seems the renovations are nearly done, and this article heralds the return of trams to the streets of Beijing. It’s hard to tell, exactly, from those two photos by 新京报/The Beiing News’ Han Meng, but it seems that the trams might have a certain retro style to them:

But black and white works better:

Anyway, the article, by TBN’s Wang Cheng, tells us:

昨日,“铛铛车”前门一号、二号电动车开进前门大街,随后分别驶进正阳桥东西两头车站停候,预计五一前后试运行。

Yesterday, the  “clank-clank cars” [trams- anybody got a better slang term?] , the trams Qianmen No. 1 and Qianmen No. 2 drove into Qianmen Dajie then split up, one going to each of the two stations to the east and west of Zhengyang Bridge. Test operations are planned to begin around May 1.

早6时许完成装车工作

Tram installation work finished around 6am

昨日11时许,两辆车头分别标有“前门一号“和“前门二号”的铛铛车缓缓地从前门大街南头驶来,在长达800多米铁轨上走走停停,穿过“正阳桥”南面两侧的盆景树,分别驶进“正阳桥”东西两头的车站。

At around 11 yesterday, the two trams named “Qianmen No. 1” and “Qianmen No. 2” slowly drove up from the south end of Qianmen Dajie, going and stopping along a tramline of over 800 metres, passing through the bonsai trees on the two sides of the road south of “Zhengyang Bridge”, splitting up with one entering each station on the east and west sides of “Zhengyang Bridge.”

昨日下午6时,在“前门一号”车站附近施工的工人们称,“铛铛车”于昨日凌晨运抵前门大街南头,卸载后,用吊车安装到大街南头的铁轨上,直至早6时许才基本完成轨道上的装车工作。

At around 6 yesterday evening, construction workers near “Qianmen No. 1″‘s station said the “clank-clank cars” were shipped to the south end of Qianmen Dajie in the early hours of yesterday morning, and after they were unloaded, a crane lifted them onto their tracks, and the installation work on the tramline had basically been finished by about 6 am.

开放式的铛铛车车站

Open-style clank-clank car station

正阳桥牌坊北面东西两头,分别是“前门一号”和“前门二号”的车站,在铁轨的尽头,分别立着两根电线杆,旁边是个开放式的车站。

North of the Zhengyang Bridge archway are the “Qianmen No. 1” and “Qianmen No. 2” stations, one to the east, one to the west. At the end of the line are two power poles, next to which are open-style stations.

昨日,附近施工的工人们称,这是铛铛车的“加油站”,车一进站可立即充电。一工人回忆,该车昨日中午第一次进站时,因车载电量不足,车子没法开动,后在人工的合力下,才把车子推进了站里。

Yesterday nearby construction workers said this was the clank-clank cars’ “filling station”. When the trams enter the station they can immediately recharge their batteries. One worker recalled that when the trams entered the station for the first time around midday yesterday, because one tram didn’t have enough electricity, it couldn’t move, and so it had to be pushed into the station.

新旧铛铛车外形不同

Appearance of new and old clank-clank cars not the same

两辆“铛铛车”按复古样式来制作:湖蓝色车顶、浅绿色车厢、棕色与湖蓝色相间的车底,车顶上安有电车充电滑行天线。每辆车两头都有牵引车头,车中部置有两排椅子,车厢内装有拉手。

The two “clank-clank cars” were built according to the old style: light blue roof, light green body, alternate brown or light blue chassis, a power pole on the roof. Each tram has a tow bar at each end, in the centre are two rows of benches, and there are hand rails inside.

“铛铛车时隔半个世纪后重返前门大街,车的样子变了。”昨日,万福物业公司50多岁的保安沈师傅称,原来的“铛铛车”车厢四周是敞开的。

“Returning to Qianmen Dajie half a century after the age of clank-clank cars, the trams’ appearance has changed.” Mr Shen, the 50-something security guard of Wanfu Property Management Company said, originally the  four sides of the “clank-clank cars” were open.

据工人们透露,随着整改工期的结束,预计“铛铛车”“五一”前后可试运行。

According to workers, along with the completion of the renovation work, test runs of the “clank-clank cars” are expected around May Day.

■ 铛铛车简历

■ History of clank-clank cars

铛铛车是北京老居民对有轨电车的称呼,原先由司机站立开车,在行驶过程中,司机不断地用脚踩响铃铛,发出 “dangdang”之响提醒行人注意,因而音译为“铛铛车”。北京市第一条有轨电车于1914年12月正式通车,路线南起前门,经司法部街、西单、西 四、新街口至西直门,全程9公里。此后,北京的西长安街、永定门、天坛北、北京体育馆路等路线也陆续开通有轨电车。前门至天桥的有轨电车因后来城区改造, 于上世纪五六十年代停运,至今已有半个世纪之久。

“Clank-clank cars” are what old Beijing residents called trams, originally because the drivers drove standing up, and as they drove, constantly trod on the bell, making a “clank-clank” sound to warn pedestrians to be careful, and so they came to be called “clank-clank cars”. The route began at Qianmen and passed through Fabu Jie, Xidan, Xisi and Xinjiekou to Xizhimen, 9 kilometres in all. Later Beijing’s West Changan Jie, Yongdingmen, Tiantan North, and Beijing Gymnasium tram routes opened successively. Because of changes in the city area, the Qianmen to Tianqiao line ceased operating in the 1950s or 1960s of last century, already half a century ago.

Alright, I decided it was fun to call trams “clank-clank cars”. I mean, it’s a pretty appropriate name for them, really.

I also think it’s cool that they’ve been renovating the Qianmen area to some approximation of the ’20s or ’30s or whatever their plan was. This city needs a lot more development with local character, not that bland, international, just-like-every-bloody-other-city rubbish like we’ve got around the CBD or those fancy apartment blocks around Jiulongshan.

Sure, hutong redevelopment has so far turned out to have a bit of an “ersatz” look to it so far- Nanchizi, for example. But:

  1. “Ersatz Lao Beijing” is better than no Lao Beijing. Really. And with time and the rise of more culturally-aware people to positions of influence and leadership, things will improve.
  2. The hutongs were never frozen in any sort of static, “This Is Lao Beijing” state. I mean, take a stroll through the hutongs and pay attention- it’s surprising just how many late-19th/early-20th century “Western”-style buildings can be found, and how many “Western”-looking elements were incorporated into otherwise Chinese buildings. Oh, and weren’t many of the crumbling, over-crowded courtyards of today originally beautiful family homes- as in homes for a single, wealthy family? Current hutong renovation projects are just the latest round of renewal and adaptation.

Anyway, I’m curious to see what has become of Qianmen, so sometime in the next couple of weeks I might take my camera and go for a walk down that way.

4 Responses to “Qianmen trams”

  1. Micah Sittig Says:

    I think in the US we’d traditionally translate the sound of a tram bell as “clang-clang”. I think “ding-ding” would sound better myself.

    I think “bonsai trees” for 盆景树 is a little strange because of the Japanese/Chinese thing. Maybe “planters” or “decorative shrubbery”?

    This is really exciting news to me. Shanghai is starting work on a tram system in my neighborhood of, ironically, Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park. If if is useful there are rumors that it will also be reintroduced to the Bund area.

  2. wangbo Says:

    I know, I took a few liberties with it. I wrote “clank-clank” because I didn’t read all the way through to the “history of trams” at the end and I was imagining the clanking noise of the trams rattling along their rails. Then I read why they were called “dangdangche” and thought, I translated it wrong, but who cares? The bonsai trees, you’re right, I just raced through that a bit too quickly without thinking about it.

  3. Micah Sittig Says:

    Ahh, then you have the gift (of translation) that I don’t have: speed ;)

  4. wangbo Says:

    Yeah, speed and carelessness. Nah, mate, it takes me ages.