The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Home of More Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you!

The above is the equivalent of “STOP BUILDING RAIL SYSTEMS, DAMMIT!” in Chinese, with one key syllable omitted (this is, after all, a family-oriented blog). We thought that would an appropriate lead-in to this report.

Two 1996 studies recommended a busway for Beijing, rather than "LRT" or "Skytrain" (elevated heavy rail using linear-induction motor cars, as in Vancouver, Canada).

We Opinionated Ones are not surprised that these were utter failures as policy documents – and we don’t think you’ll be, either.

Both papers considered a corridor extending from northeast from Xizhimen subway station to Haidan (Zhongguancun) and the Summer Palace, major tourist attraction and popular destination for Beijing residents.

The Beijing Busway Study (Andrew H. Spencer, Jin Guo, Andong Wang and Weichang Weng, "Traffic Engineering + Control," vol 37, no 3, March 1996) proposed a busway built in existing roads, separated from other traffic but shared with bicycles.

"Only the busway shows a positive NPV ["net present value," i.e. benefits minus cost]; those for LRT and skytrain are negative in the extreme. The reason is simply that for the rail options the high construction costs outweigh the (heavily-discounted) benefits which do not rise in proportion; time-saving benefits also suffer from low assumed values of time, themselves the consequence of low incomes. The principal benefit is the saving in operating costs; for the busway this outweighs the value of time savings by three to one.

["Heavily-discounted" is an understatement. This paper used a discount rate of 12 percent, which is very high. The high value of the discount rate used by Spencer et al. "reflects the restrictions on capital spending introduced in 1993 in an attempt to restrain overheating in the economy."]

"Our study concludes that not only can the busway carry the passengers forecast for 2000, it is also the only means of doing so that justifies its costs."

"Light rail or busway? A comparative evaluation for a corridor in Beijing" (Andrew H. Spencer and Andong Wang, Journal of Transport Geography, vol 4, no 4, 1996) contains more details, but uses the same methodology and reaches the same conclusion. It adds, "It must be noted that these findings apply only to Beijing or to other cities which have sufficiently wide roads. Busways are unlikely to be a solution in the inner parts of Shanghai or Guangzhou, or instance."

Some of the commentary in the second paper has a familiar ring:

"Publications by the municipal and subway authorities show proposals for an extensive network with three lines intersecting the central area in both north-south and east-west directions, but capital for such ambitious schemes will inevitably be in short supply. Beijing is, in any event, not a city that is conducive to efficient subway systems. The population density for the eight most built-up administrative istricts, at 4380 persons per square km [= 11,000 per sq mi], is surprisingly low; the density for the entire territory of Singapore, with its extensive unbuilt areas, is 5200 [= 14,000 per sq mi]. There has been rapid peripheral expansion of both housing and business developments over the last 15 years (MVA Consultancy 1993; "Beijing Transport Study Draft Final Report;" prepared for the British Overseas Development Administration and the Beijing Academy of City Planning and Design). Many of the city’s streets are wide, even monumental, in scale, and Beijing’s planners have traditionally seen roads as the primary form of transport infrastructure. The low density of development makes it questionable whether rail could ever be accessible enough to be generally attractive to a population already accustomed to personal transport [in the form of bicycles]. Nor would it be likely to be profitable. Allport [RJ] and Thompson [JM]’s study (1990, Study of mass rapid transit in developing countries, Contractor Report 188, Transport Research Laboratory, Crowthorne, Table 7.4) is illuminating. Examining heavy and light rail systems operating in 15 developing cities, they found that only those in the higher income countries – Seoul, Hong Kong and possibly Singapore – appeared to come anywhere near to covering total costs (not including construction costs) from the farebox. Most did not even cover operating costs. Beijing’s own subway currently operates at a considerable deficit and officials have made it clear to the authors that the case for improvements will have to rest on some form of cost-benefit appraisal in which the relief of congestion and the facilitating of urban development will be prime considerations."

Does any of the above sound familiar?

The Chinese government eventually rejected the recommendations of Spencer et al. We were not able to find details (perhaps similar to the Singapore story, which we brought to you in a previous post), but the evidence is unmistakable.

Beijing started construction of a 27-mile, 16-station light rail line, shaped like an inverted "U," at the end of 1999. This line, number 13 on the master plan, will extend from Xizhimen subway station north to Huilongguan, then south to Dongzhimen. The line has two miles underground, five miles on viaduct and the remainder at grade ( The initial 18-mile section between Xizhimen and Huilongguan was scheduled for opening in September 2000, with the remainder to follow in January 2003 ("Full operation of Beijing's light rail system postponed," China Daily, July 30, 2002.)

A second light rail line or “elevated light metro” was started at the end of 2000. This will extend 12 miles from Bawangfen (Sihuidong subway station, Line 1) eastward to Tongzhou (Tuqiao station).

("Construction of Beijing Elevated Light Rail Begins," People’s Daily, December 19, 2000, see: Completion was scheduled for 2003 (

However, this project evolved subsequently into an eastward extension of subway Line 1 on viaduct, planned for completion by the end of 2003.

The master plan outlines a subway, Line 9, to serve the Haidan corridor. This will extend from Fengtai Guogongzhuang in the south to Zhongguancun and the Summer Palace in the north, 16 miles, with 20 stations. The line will have 12 miles underground and the remainder on viaduct. Construction is planned to start in 2004 for compl

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