July 21st, 2008

Well, what an anti-climax that was. Guess I should’ve known. I mean, you don’t get all excited about some new thing then honestly expect that new thing to live up to your all excited expectations, now, do you?

But, well, I remember the first ride I took on Line 5, and it was soooo cool! Well, sure, Line 5’s interchanges with Line 2 at Chongwenmen and Line 1 at Dongdan are not the best, and do involve a fair bit more walking than one would expect in a subway station, but still, it’s cool- especially the Yonghegong station.

But my first impression of Line 10, walking into the Jinsong terminal at about quarter to two this afternoon, was, dude, this place is cheap! Well, not quite. My very first impression was, wow, it’s pretty deep. Then I started looking around and the finishing just seemed so cheap and hurried- a couple of apparently random bits of paper with what I took to be notation for construction workers on them stuck to ceiling panels, even.  Not a good look.

Well, I walked through the corridor to the main, umm, ‘atrium’ I guess you can call it, and quickly scanned the area. The usual ticketing machines, gates, security checkpoint with x-ray machine, security guards and a token cop ignoring me (I’ve got to be one of the least threatening-looking people in the world). Everything as per normal. I swiped myself through and went down to the platform. Pretty much the same as Line 5, but the monitors only showed the interval between trains, not the time until the next train and the one after that like on Line 5.  Oh, and being the terminus, for now at least, the glass wall on one side was clearly marked “Terminus”, meaning, fairly obviously, when these doors open don’t get on this train. The other side was clearly marked “Towards Bagou” or words to that effect. In other words, no navigation hassles, it was easy enough to find my way in and which platform I needed. Just not quite up to Line 5’s standard of excellence.

So the train arrived, I got on, I rode around to Xitucheng. When I thought about it, I couldn’t be arsed going all the way out to the other terminus, but I did want to pass all the transfer stations- well, Line 13 gets two transfers, forget the second, pass at least one transfer with each connecting line. And hey, Xitucheng should get me to a convenient corner of the old Yuan Dynasty City Wall Park, with options for a pleasant stroll. So that’s what I did.

Again, I was a little disappointed. The ride was no smoother than an old train on Line 1. A bit on the bumpy side, in other words. And two stops up at Guomao I was reminded: You can build a new subway line, but making more civilised passengers is another story. Yep, that old Beijing tradition, run like spoilt primary school brats to grab a seat on the subway with no concern for the comfort or safety of others, is alive and well.

Well, after that it was business as usual, rumbling along with the occasional bounce or shudder towards my destination. The magic lit-up sign showing which stretch we were on and which station was next was more than clear enough and functioned fine. The voice announcements did the job adequately. All was good.

Got off at Xitucheng. Once again, no hassles navigating. Everything was clearly signposted, maps were easily found and easily read, no worries. Got out exactly where I wanted to be with no troubles at all and went for a walk back eastwards through that park.

Then I got a couple of worrying messages from a friend alerting me to certain incidents in Kunming….

Then I got to the Mudanyuan station and thought, bugger it, time to head home and see what these messages are really about.

Well, I decided to take a subway zigzag and try out a couple of interchanges. I took Line 10 to Huixin Xijie Nankou then transferred to Line 5, heading south to Dongdan then onto Line 1 eastwards to Guomao, where I got back on Line 10 down to Jinsong.

Line 10-Line 5 at Huixin Xijie Nankou, apart from the long name of the station, was sweet as. Off the train, straight through to Line 5, you’d hardly noticed you’d changed trains. Nothing remarkable about the station beyond that, though. But yes, very sweetly designed interchange, just a few short steps and you’re where you want to be.

Line 5-Line 1 at Dongdan was nothing new for me, done it a few times before. It’s a bit of a hike, as I’m sure I’ve already whinged about. This time, though, the travelator was open, but still not moving. Cut down on the crowd walking, though, opening up that little extra space. But that’s still not the best designed interchange in Beijing.

Line 1-Line 10 at Guomao, and judging by what I saw, vice-versa: Not quite as sweet as Line 2-Line 5 at Yonghegong, but not too far off. A short stroll, looks like it’ll be a hike, but it’s shorter than it first seems. From the Line 1 platform it could be better signposted, but once you’re up in the atrium it’s easy enough to see.

Then arrival back at Jinsong. Once again, navigation was simple, signposts were clear, maps easily found, no hassles. The one big, big disadvantage of Jinsong station was made abundantly clear, though: Jinsong has exits A, B, and D covering northwest (A), northeast (B) and southwest (D), and there are odd patches on all the signs and maps where one would expect C (southeast) to be. I don’t know what this means or who to blame, I can only surmise that an exit C leading to the southeast corner of the Jinsong interchange was planned but, for whatever reason, has yet to be opened. In fact, there is no sign of such an exit appearing on that corner, at least nothing visible from ground level. This represents a huge disadvantage for those of us living east of Jinsong, at least if we live more than walking distance from the station, as it means to take the subway home we need to find a way to cross over to the southern side of the road to get a bus to take us the rest of the way. You may say I’m just whingeing, but really, when this area is already so well served by buses (and it is: bus transport from here to basically anywhere in Beijing is a breeze), the extra hike for us represents a huge, huge disincentive to use the subway. Take my wife as an example. From here she can take the 852 or 486 heading straight up Xidawang Lu to Chaoyang Park then walk a few hundred metres to work. Or she can walk slightly further and take the 801, which runs from somewhere just east of Pandaomiao through Pingleyuan to Jinsong thence north up the third ring, get off at Changhongqiao/Tuanjiehu and walk a short distance to her office. Sure, she could take the 801 to Jinsong then the subway Line 10 to Tuanjiehu, thereby going under the traffic and avoiding the jams- but getting home? Where’s the advantage in the subway? Taking the 852 home exposes her to traffic jams, but in normal conditions the only choke point is the run from Dawang Qiao south through Dongjiao Market under the railway cutting then through the Baiziwan intersection. Other than that, the bus has a pretty much free ride.

And if Line 10 is to expand southward then hook around west to meet Line 5 at Songjiazhuang, as one map I have seen suggests, it still doesn’t bring us much of an advantage, for similar reasons.

I dunno, maybe for those living west of Jinsong Line 10 is a huge advantage. I suspect not, but I may be wrong. I would say, though, that for those living along the East Third Ring between Guomao and Jinsong within walking distance of the new line life has suddenly gotten a lot easier. Still, I won’t say the subway was crowded as I headed home from Guomao. It wasn’t. I suspect for far too many in this corner of the city it’s still more convenient to take the bus or cycle.

And with this morning’s events in Yunnan, I suppose it’s a good thing I bought a bike. Second-hand, in need of repairs, but useable.

I suspect, though, that Line 10, with it’s hook-up to the Airport Express at Sanyuan Qiao (a rather cheap bridge?), will make getting to the airport a little more convenient, at least if we don’t have much luggage. It’ll be a little more expensive than the bus, at two yuan for Line 10 Jinsong to Sanyuan Qiao, 25 yuan for the Airport Express, and whatever negligible sum the 801 costs on my Yikatong card (does four jiao sound right?); versus the negligible fare for the 801 up to Guomao (I suspect still only four jiao) then the sixteen yuan for the airport bus from the Guomao stop at the China Southern Airlines Hotel. Not a huge amount of extra convenience for the cost, but still, no traffic jams.

Well, I still rate Line 5 as the coolest in the Beijing subway system, and Line 5’s Yonghegong station as by far the styliest. Line 10 was a bit of a let-down, really. I have to admit, though, that I have not yet experienced the Airport Express or Line 8. I may get a chance to try out the Airport Express in mid-August, but Line 8 will have to wait until after the Olympic security restrictions have eased.

Verdict? Line 10 is certainly functional, even if it doesn’t look like much and doesn’t necessarily bring any real advantage to most of us in the southeast of Beijing.

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