One Line at a Time… China’s Metro has BIG Plans

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 4:24
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My first experience with subways, light rails, and buses was while living in Tokyo. The first day I landed, I pulled out my subway map (a two page spread of travel guide)… and I was wondering what noodle strand in the spaghetti bowl I was supposed to get on.Shanghai subway

After a year, my map was replaced by a name card sized map that any FOB would swear was a Salvador Dali picture.

It was cheap, it was easy, and as a student it was the only way to go. In my time in Tokyo, I rode in a total of 2 cars. One owned by a friend (free), and the other a taxi (NOT FREE).. Walking a km to the station was a part of my everyday life, and Tokyo’s stations were filled with things to do.

Now after living in Shanghai, I am getting a bit excited as the plans for this place are huge. A while back, I wrote a post on a mall in Xuhui being shut down due to the construction of a metro station underneath them.. and that is just one location.

Over the last 6 months, blue corrugate fences have been going up. Traffic is diverted… A crane is brought in.. and pretty soon 100 workers begin tearing into the ground as if they are digging for treasure.

What they are doing though is building the outlets for what is to be the largest subway system in the world (by 2015), and Shanghai with 5 lines in service is still expecting another 7-8 by 2010.

And that is just the beginning. While in Chengdu earlier this year they broke ground on their line. Xi’an and Wuhan are preparing their’s, and according to an article today in the China Daily, Jilin just construction of their first intercity rail.

However, it is not until I read the Shanghai Daily article Subway construction craze creates opportunities for manufacturers that the thumb nail sketch began to take on some color:

Of 43 Chinese cities with a population exceeding one million, 30 have applied to build metro lines, said officials with the Urban Rail Transit Committee under the China Communications and Transportation Association.


About 600 billion yuan (US$78 billion) is expected to be invested in building subways and light rails before 2010, when the total length of subway lines will surpass 1,500 kilometers, according to the committee.

For a country with the most rail line already in the world, this is a country like no other whereby passengers will soon be able to traverse the country without leaving the train or a transit station… and efficiently

So why is this important? Well… for me it is important for two reasons:

1) Cars are not sustainable in their current form, and with the costs of oil, insurance, and tolls all becoming more than the average consumer can bear… the subways and buses are the only means for people to transit.

Today I rode the subway from one end of Shanghai to the other … I think 20+ stops… and I paid 6 RMB. Compare that to my recent visit to Barcelona where I was paying 1.2 EURO (double the price).

2) This means big opportunities for companies like Alstom, SIEMENS, Bombardier, and others

Many of China’s 4500 cars are new (Line 1 cars are being retrofitted), steel suppliers are selling rail faster than it can be produced, software companies are getting into the act… and advertisers now have new mediums to annoy reach consumers with those flat panel advertisements.

For those in real estate… well, the opportunities are limitless as we recently learned in one meeting with officials responsible for planning the development of the various areas. There are huge projects in planning, that need investment, and for those that plan well… well… $$ ?
Matching my experience of using a well developed system in Tokyo, with the planning of Shanghai’s… my head is spinning with ideas on how the U.S. has got to get their act together. Sure, cities like Chicago, LA, and NYC have developed systems, but many of the other systems struggle as cities were built around the car.. rather than for public transport.

No doubt, the next few years in Shanghai and in other cities are going to be interesting above….. and below ground

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