The Beijing subway and the Delhi metro

Both Beijing and New Delhi are improving the connectivity of their respective rail transit systems, but they have to overcome a few challenges before they can move forward.
Sriparna Pathak
29 September 2011

The Asian giants have proven that the 'Asian century' is plausible and not just a pre-ordained model. China and India are constantly being compared, but the resulting distinctions make little difference because both nations face the same challenges at a fundamental level. Urbanisation and associated problems are the common challenges as they move up the ladder of development. One of the most commonly associated problems with rapidly increasing levels of urbanisation is traffic congestion; and the solution has to involve increasing the linkages of the public transport system.

In both countries, the state's role in deciding on issues of public transport is central. While the Beijing subway is owned by the city of Beijing, the Delhi metro is owned and operated by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). The Beijing subway and the Delhi metro are integral components of public transport in both the countries. Both are rapid rail transit networks covering vast expanses of land.  On various counts, the two enterprises could share notes and learn from each other.

Central Secretariat Delhi Metro: Wikimedia Commons

The Beijing subway's first line opened in 1969 and the network has 14 lines, 172 stations and covers 336 kilometers (209 miles). In comparison, the Delhi metro's first line opened in 2002, and the total network comprises six lines with 142 stations covering 189.7 kilometers (117.9 miles). The Delhi metro is still in its nascent stages with the fourth phase of the network having a completion deadline in 2020, by which time there are plans to have covered 108.5 kilometers (67.4 miles). In Beijing, the plans are to complete a total of 19 lines and over 660 kilometers (410 miles) by 2015 and another 1000 kilometers (620 miles) by 2020. All but two of Beijing's subway lines were built within the past decade. China's capabilities in the creation of infrastructure are judged superior to that of India's. In fact the DMRC consulted the Hong Kong MTR on its rapid transit operation and construction techniques when planning for the metro began in 1984. The Hong Kong MTR, in a public private joint venture with Beijing MTR Corporation manages two of the 14 lines in the Beijing subway.

A flat fare of RMB 2.00 with unlimited transfers applies to all lines in the Beijing subway, except for use of the Airport Express which costs RMB 25. The 'One Card Through Card' or the 'Yikatong card' - an integrated circuit card (ICC card) facilitates travelling as it stores credit for multiple rides. It is used on most buses and can be used as e-money for other purposes. In comparison, the Delhi metro card stores credit for multiple rides as well, but can be used only for travelling in the metro. Also fares range from INR 8 to INR 30 depending on the distance travelled.

The Beijing subway and the Delhi metro are similar in appearance. Nevertheless, in terms of security, the Beijing subway fares better as it has more security personnel. There are also more maps of the Beijing subway within the premises with specifications on lines, stoppages and stops for interchanging lines, and the travel card even has the map of the subway printed on the reverse side.  The New Delhi metro could learn from all this.

In emergency planning, the subway again fares better, as some lines have glass covers over the trains, which could usefully be extended to all the lines in subway and metro. When it comes to efficiency, the subway has no abrupt stops - delays which are extremely common in the Delhi metro. Nevertheless there are long walking distances between the several lines of the Beijing subway which add to the passenger's travelling time. This is not the case in the Delhi metro. Also, there are no vendors or alms seekers in the Delhi metro, in comparison with the Beijing subway. The Delhi metro is the second metro in the world after the New York subway that has been certified for environmentally friendly construction. The subway could take some inspiration on this from the metro. In fact, as traffic pressures continue to mount, a sharing of ideas could be the way ahead for both. 

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