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A Brief History of Beijing's Subway System

Beijing’s Subway is – at the time of writing – the  longest subway system in the world, alternating places with the Shanghai Metro as both continue their expansions. It has 23 lines including 19 rapid transit lines, two airport rail links, one maglev line and one light rail line, and 405 stations. In 2018 it experienced 3.85 billion trips, an average of 10.544 million trips per day, making it the busiest subway in the world in terms of annual ridership. Single-day ridership set a record of 13.7538 million on July 12, 2019.

The Beijing Subway is also the oldest metro system in mainland China having opened in 1969. Before 2002, however, there were only two lines in service, though extensive plans now call for 999 km of lines serving a projected 18.5 million trips everyday by 2020.

The subway was first mooted in September 1953 by the city’s planning committee, with advice given to them by the Soviet Union. Although the primary aim was to expand the city’s transport system, they also saw a metro as something that could be used for civil defence. They believed that they could use the subway not just to protect civilians, but also to move troops and set up military command posts just like the Russians had done in Moscow. So initially the Beijing Subway was planned for dual civilian-and-military use.

The Chinese relied heavily on Soviet and East German technical assistance. In 1954, Soviet engineers were invited to help plan the subway in Beijing; and for the next few years, several thousand Chinese students were sent to the Soviet Union to study subway construction. However, the deterioration of relations between China and the Soviet Union disrupted subway planning. The Soviet engineers began to leave from 1960, and were completely withdrawn by 1963.

On February 4, 1965, Chairman Mao Zedong personally approved a project to create a subway conduit to move personnel from the heart of the capital to the Western Hills.

Eventually Beijing’s metro was planned as a utilitarian system, reflecting former leader Deng Xiaoping’s orders that “The stations should not be built like those of the Moscow Metro. They should be solid and practical, not extravagant.”

Construction began on July 1, 1965, and the first phase of the project was completed and began trial operations in time to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, 1969.

The most controversial decision of the initial line was the demolition of the capital’s historic inner city wall to make way for the subway, since Chairman Mao favoured demolishing the wall over demolishing homes. In the end, Premier Zhou Enlai managed to preserve several walls and gates, such as Qianmen with its arrow tower, by slightly altering the course of the subway.

In February 1970, Zhou Enlai handed management of the subway to the People's Liberation Army, with the formation of the PLA Rail Engineering Corp Beijing Subway Management Bureau. Five years later, the bureau was placed under the authority of the Beijing Municipal Transportation Department. In 1981, the bureau became the Beijing Subway Company, which was a subsidiary of the Beijing Public Transportation Company.

Nowadays, the main operator is the wholly state-owned Beijing Mass Transit Railway Operation Corp., which was formed in the reorganization of the original Beijing Subway Group Company in 2001, and operates 15 lines: Lines 1, 2, 5,6,7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, Batong line, Changping line, Fangshan line, Yizhuang line and S1 line.

The Beijing MTR Corp. is a public–private joint venture formed in 2005 and operates four lines: Lines 4, 14, 16 and Daxing line. Line 17, which is currently under construction, will also be run by them.

BJMOA, a subsidiary of Beijing Metro Construction Administration Corporation Ltd., became the third company to obtain operation rights for the Beijing Subway in 2015. The BJMOA operates the Yanfang line and Daxing Airport Express, and will operate Line 19 when that is completed.

The Beijing Public Transit Tramway Co., Ltd., formed in 2017, operates the Xijiao line. Its corporate parent, BPTC, is the city's main public bus operator.

The Beijing City Metro Ltd. operates the Capital Airport Express on a 30 year lease.

The initial subway began operations on a trial basis between Beijing Railway Station and Gongzhufen (it was then called Lixin - (立新) on January 15, 1971. Only those in possession of credential letters from their work units could purchase tickets, which cost ¥0.10. Overall, the line delivered 8.28 million rides in 1971, averaging 28,000 riders per day. On December 27, 1972, travellers no longer needed to present credential letters to be allowed to buy tickets.

The next year, the line was extended to Pingguoyuan and reached 23.6 km in length with 17 stations and 132 train trips per day. Annual ridership grew to 22.2 million in 1976 to 28.4 million in 1977, 30.9 million in 1978, and 55.2 million in 1980. In 1981 it had risen to 64.7 million, to 72.5 million in 1982 and to 82 million in 1983. On September 20, 1984, a second line was opened to the public, created from the eastern half of the initial line and corresponding to what is now the southern half of the present-day Line 2. It ran 16.1 km from Fuxingmen to Jianguomen with 16 stations. Ridership reached 105 million in 1985.

On December 28, 1987, the two existing lines were reconfigured into Line 1 (which ran from Pingguoyuan to Fuxingmen) and Line 2, tracing the Ming city wall. Fares doubled to ¥0.20 for single-line rides and ¥0.30 for rides with transfers. By 1990, the subway carried more than one million riders per day for the first time.

On January 26, 1991, planning began on the eastward extension of Line 1 under Chang’an Avenue. The extension to Sihui East was completed on September 28, 1999, when the first section of the Fuba line was opened. On June 28, 2000, Line 1 and the Fuba Line were merged to create a 31 km (19 mi) line with 23 stations. Fares for each journey then cost ¥3.

A major fillip was given to the expansion of the subway system when, in 2001, Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. Work on Line 5 had already begun in September 2000, and the clearing of land for Lines 4 and 10 began in November 2003.

The next additions to the subway were surface commuter lines that linked to the north and east of the city. Line 13, a half loop that links the northern suburbs, first opened on the western half from Huilongguan to Xizhimen on September 28, 2002 and the entire line became operational on January 28, 2003. The Batong Line, built as an extension to Line 1 to reach as far as Tongzhou, was opened as a separate line on December 27, 2003.

Line 5 came into operation on October 7, 2007. It was the city’s first north-south line. That same day, fares were reduced from between ¥3 and ¥7 per trip to a single flat fare of ¥2 with unlimited transfers.

In the summer of 2008, in anticipation of the Summer Olympic Games, three new lines — Line 10, the Olympic Branch Line and the Airport Express — opened on July 19 for trial operation. The use of paper tickets was finally discontinued and replaced by electronic tickets that are scanned by automatic fare collection machines upon entry and exit of the subway.

Line 4 started operations on September 28, 2009, bringing a subway service to large parts of western Beijing.

At this time, the maps inside the trains travelling through the central area featured a compilation of lines 1 and 2,and small sections of 4, 5 and the Airport Express.

On December 30, 2010, five suburban lines: Line 15, the Changping, Fangshan, Yizhuang and Daxing lines all commenced operations. In one fell swoop the track had been extended by nearly 50%, making the subway the fourth longest metro in the world.

A year later, it surpassed the New York City Subway to become the third longest metro in revenue track length with the extension of Line 8 northwards from the Olympic Green to Huilongguan, the opening of Line 9 in southwest Beijing from Beijing West Railway Station to Guogongzhuang, the extension of the Fangshan Line to Guogongzhuang, and the extension of Line 15 from Houshayu to Fengbo in central Shunyi. Ridership reached 2.18 billion in 2011.

On December 30, 2012, another 40 new stations were opened, and the subway temporarily surpassed the Shanghai Metro as the longest in the world, only to be surpassed by Shanghai again a year later.

On May 5, 2013, the Line 10 loop was completed and the 57 km line became the longest underground subway loop in the world.

On the same day, the first section of Line 14 also entered operation, ahead of the opening of the Ninth China International Garden Expo in Fengtai District. Later that year two sections were added to Line 8. In 2013, the subway delivered 3.209 billion rides, an increase of 30% from the previous year.

In December 2014, the subway network expanded again with the opening of Line 7, the eastern extension of line 6, the eastern section of line 14, and the western extension of line 15. At the same time, the ¥2 flat-rate fare was replaced with a variable-rate fare with a minimum of ¥3, to cover operational costs.

The following December saw the opening of the section of Line 14 from Beijing South Railway Station to Jintailu, phase II of the Changping Line from Nanshao to Changping Xishankou and new stations on Lines 8 and 15. The northern section of Line 16 opened on December 31, 2016, while almost exactly a year later three new lines opened: a tram-train line (Xijiao) linking the northwestern section of Line 10 to the tourist areas of Xiang-shan and the Botanic Gardens; a new Maglev line (S1) stretching out into the western hills; and a new line (Yanfang) in the southwest, meaning the shortest time taken to traverse the longest distance (Yanshan to Fengbo) is now over three hours and necessitates five line changes!

On December 28, 2019, the eastern extension of Line 7 (Jiaohuachang-Huazhuang) and the southern extension of Batong line (Tuqiao-Huazhuang) opened.

There are four suburban railway lines currently in operation: Line S2, Sub-Central line, Huairou–Miyun line and Tongmi line.They are managed separately from the Beijing Subway, and although complementary, they are not related to each other operationally. Beijing Suburban Railway is operated by the China Railway Beijing Group.

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