Monday, July 07, 2008

Another reason I will stay far away from the Beijing Olympics

James Fallows reports from Beijing:

I mentioned recently that two subway lines that are crucial to Olympic transport plans -- the airport express, to bring visitors in from PEK airport, and the special line to the Olympic venues themselves -- have had their opening delayed, along with another, Line 10, that is crucial to my own transport happiness. They're all now scheduled to open later this month, immediately before the games.

After the jump, an account from a reader who talked recently in Beijing with two foreign engineers directly involved in getting the subways going. I can't vouch for this personally, but I have heard other accounts that parallel several of these points. (The source also provided other details about the engineers' bona fides.) As an expectant rider of Line 10, I really hope this report turns out to be too pessimistic:

- The promised number of trains (40) is not going to happen by the time the games open. They felt that 28 would be optimistic at this point.

- The variety of overlapping bureaucracies were maddening. Apparently, there are municipal authorities, the Olympic organizing people, the transportation authority, and the airport operation. Some days they're told to get to work at noon by one of the parties. And then other needed people on the project don't show up until 8pm. So they work until the morning anyway.

- The trains are in a sort of limbo right now, having been delivered, but not put into service. As a result, each of the various groups is trying to "own" them at this point. Competing tantrums rule the day as the trains "change hands."

- The system likely (or certainly?) won't launch as a driverless system, as had been planned at some point.

- The drivers that will be used are experienced with subways are performing poorly at this point. The guys seemed pessimistic that they would be competent by the time the games opened. (They explained some differences in braking that were beyond my comprehension.)

Oy vey.

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