Video: Beijing's Line 10 -- the "iPhone of Subways"


Video by Josh Chin, Wall Street Journal

The Beijing subway makes up for what it lacks in panache (privet, Moscow!) with sleek zippy train lines that get built at record speed, and with a host of high-tech trimmings.

Not long after it opened, just in time for the Olympics, Josh Chin at the Wall Street Journal interviewed me on video about line 10, which he calls, aptly, "the iPhone of subways."An Appreciation
Now I don't love the Beijing subway, at least not in its current prepubescent stage (as opposed to its future Three-Gorges-size version). But there's nothing like a city with a terrible, sprawling urban plan to make you really appreciate a subway.

It's not the most complete subway in the world (O Moskva!) but over the past 14 months, with the opening of line 5, and then lines 10, 8 and the Airport Express, it grew by almost half (!). Suddenly people were being zipped to places in the city they probably had never heard about, much less visited. It was like manna from the underground (Actually, I think you can buy some good dark khleb in the Moscow Metro, but bread is hard to find in the Beijing ditie).

High Tech Underground
Given the subway's touch screen maps, on-board televisions, and sleek LED-lined stations, the iPhone tag makes sense. Come to think of it, that, coupled with photos of the NYC subway, might actually be a really good marketing slogan to appeal to Beijing's rising middle class, who are buying cars the way New Yorkers buy iPhones (the Beijingers are buying iPhones too).

As I point out, the subway represents what a strong authoritarian state with cheap labor is capable of, especially when compared with New York City's Second Ave. line, which has been in the works for some eight decades.

Among the things left on the cutting room floor were my meditations on Beijing's smart cooperation with MTR, the private company that operates Hong Kong's Swiss watch of a subway, in exchange for owning rights to all the land above the subway too. MTR is developing Beijing's western line 4, and owns Ginza Mall, a Japanese watch of a shopping center that connects (surprise!) to the Dongzhimen metro station.

I think we spoke for about half an hour, which means that by the time Josh left my apartment somewhere in Beijing a new subway station had been planned, designed and built.

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Tags: Beijing | China

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