Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nanjing's metro

I have long been a fan of subways, and have tried to ride the subway wherever I've traveled, if only for the fun of it. So it's no surprise that I have enjoyed riding Nanjing's subway, first opened in 2005 and now with a second line that opened in 2010.
Several more lines are planned, and construction for line 3 has apparently already begun, so this relatively young system has very big ambitions.

As subway systems go, the Nanjing metro is very user-friendly.  As the map above indicates, all stations are posted in both characters as well as pinyin.  More than that, the on-board displays announcing the next station appear in Chinese characters as well as English, and the spoken announcement appears in both Chinese and English. Even better, the newer cars also have above the doors a lighted route map that shows in red all those stations already passed (or not part of this particular train's route), in flashing yellow the next stop, and in green all those remaining on this run.
The lights apparently flash, so when I snapped this photo some lights were "off," but you get the idea.
Ease of use for non-Chinese speakers seems to have been part of the whole system's design, because all the signage appears in English as well as Chinese. This proves especially valuable when one tries to exit a large station like Xinjeiko, which has more than 25 exits.

Over and above all that, the trains and stations are spotless! The train cars themselves are produced by the multinational firm Alstom, who also manufacture the French TGV hi-speed trains. The cars come equipped with plastic seating up against the car walls, so this is far from luxurious, and during much of the day the majority of the passengers are standing, grasping the numerous "straps" (now all plastic) each of which is fitted out with an advertisement. There is no real division between cars, so that, if you were riding an empty train, as Jill and I were the day we rode out to Xianlin, it can seem as if your train reaches endlessly in front of and behind you.
Most busy stations are staffed with metro officials, all equipped with whistles that they frequently employ in order to keep passengers from crowding too closely to the platform edge. In fact, however, many stations are designed with a second set of "doors" into a glass or plexiglass panel that stretches the entire length of the platform. So, in a manner that resembles some of the deep stations in St. Petersburg's metro, when one enters or exits the metro cars, one goes through two doors—one set on the train, another on the platform.
As these things go, the stations are relatively close together, so access to the metro from the street is not difficult or far, at least so long as you find yourself within shouting distance of the two intersecting lines. Fares are based on distance traveled across a half-dozen zones. Each station boasts a handful of automated ticket machines, but many people purchase instead magnetized payment cards which are good for all forms of public transit. More importantly, having one of these cards allows you to avoid the sometimes long lines gathered at the ticket machines.
So the metro has proven a real boon to us, especially as the closest station is only about one block away.

Buses here are numerous, and I am sure that, if we knew a bit of Chinese, we could make frequent use of them. But the bus signage is not nearly so English-friendly, so we have ridden a bus only a few times. Taxis are numerous, and relatively easy to hail, but again language is an issue. Still, watching street traffic has been a source of interest. I would say that easily the instrument most often used by Chinese drivers—whether of automobiles, truck, buses or mopeds—is the horn. Because drivers seem sometimes inspired to unusual decisions—like turning around in the middle of the block, even if it means that there is no room for a "U-turn," strictly speaking—there sometimes develop considerable traffic backlog, which results in a series of horns blowing, not one of which can possibly be helping solve the situation.

So, we have done a lot of our traveling in Nanjing underground, and it has been a real pleasure!

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