Shanghai Metro: from nothing to world leader

Covering 673 kilometers of tracks and 395 stations, the city's Metro network is the largest in the world, and getting bigger.

Ti Gong
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

It is not at all surprising that one might feel perplexed when first standing in front of the Shanghai Metro’s intricate map.

Shanghai has 17 Metro lines running all over the city, and two extensions of current lines will open by the end of this year. More than 10 million people commute by using the network every day.

Covering 673 kilometers of track and 395 stations, it is the world’s largest Metro network.

From nothing to world leader took Shanghai 25 years.

But before that, engineers and workers had groped in the dark for 30 years. Line 1 started operation in 1993, the first section covering 6.6 kilometers from Xujiahui to Jinjiang Amusement Park.

In 1963, engineer Liu Jianhang, later known as the “father of Shanghai Metro,” took a team to Lujiazui area in the Pudong New Area at a time when it was mostly farmland.

Experts at home and abroad came to a conclusion that Shanghai’s soil was too soft to support an underground subway.

“They told me it would be like digging a tunnel inside a piece of tofu,” Liu said.

Ti Gong

Shanghai's first Metro line was put into use in 1993.

In 2003, when Shanghai was named host city for the World Expo 2010, plans were made to extend the length of the Metro to 400 kilometers by the time it opened, according to Jin Jiamo, former Party secretary of Shanghai Shentong Metro Group. “We had only 65 kilometers in 2003,” he said.

In 2007, Jin recalled, 116 stations were under construction at the same time.

As it grew, Shanghai Metro began to introduce more human touches.

Since 2013, in the station hall of People’s Square, where three lines interchange, the Metro operator set up a music corner.

Every Saturday, both professional and amateur musicians and artists hit the stage. More than 500 free shows have been put on to date. and the tiny music corner has become a bridge for cultural exchanges.

At the 500th show, Matt Knowles — director of culture and education at the British Council in Shanghai, which has worked with the music corner twice and is planning another event soon — said what made it so special was that Shanghai Metro had turned a commercial space into a cultural one, giving people a chance to pause and reflect.

At other stations, such as Shaanxi Road S., halls there have held exhibitions of classic and modern art.

In June, the station showcased seven reproductions of famous oil paintings from London’s National Gallery.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The transfer area between Lines 1 and 9 in Xujiahui

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The transfer area between Lines 1 and 12

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Yaohua Road Station of Line 8

The paintings, including works of Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and Oscar-Claude Monet, were part of the Metro’s public culture project.

Art installations, along with the paintings, built up a three-dimensional scene reflecting the stories behind the works and the artists.

“By exhibiting artworks and artifacts, we aim to make the daily commute an entrance to art,” said the Metro operator’s Jin Shenghua.

Line 17, which opened last year, has gone further, with every single station  designed with artistic decorations.

In July, its Zhuguang Road station won the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver prize, the most widely used green building rating system in the world, making it the first of all Metro stations in Asia to win the title.

At the same time, as the human side of the Metro’s public space is being developed, the hardware is also evolving.

On March 31, Shanghai’s first automated people mover, a driverless train on the Pujiang Line, started operation.

The entire operation of the new line will be remotely controlled from a central dispatch room. Passengers who sit at the head or tail of the train will have full access views outside through huge glass windows.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A driverless train on the Pujiang Line started operation in March.

Unlike many of these lines, where passengers cannot move from one carriage to another, the four carriages on the Pujiang Line train are open and passengers can move freely between them, making it the longest train of its kind in the world.

For the project, Shentong Metro partnered with France-based Keolis, the world’s leading provider of trams and automated rapid transit. The company has successfully operated 110 kilometers of track for automated people movers.

“Since this is an automated line, our officers will be largely working in the control room and in the stations,” said Yu Miao, manager of Shanghai Keolis, operator of the Pujiang Line.

From January 2018, an app developed by Shanghai Metro — called Metro Daduhui — has allowed passengers to scan a QR code on their phones to enter the trains.

It now supports Alipay, WeChat Pay and Union Pay, three of the most commonly used mobile payment methods in China.

The app is part of the cooperation between Shanghai Metro and industrial giants such as Tencent and Alibaba. The Metro operator has signed strategic cooperation agreements with both companies.

In the future, voice-control ticket dispensers and facial recognition on turnstiles will be applied to all Metro stations to make it even easier for commuters to travel around the city.

Currently, there are seven Metro projects under construction, three of which are extensions to existing lines, which will be finished before the end of this year. The rest will open to the public in 2020.

By then, Shanghai Metro will have 20 lines and cover a total length of 830 kilometers.



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