Beijing subway system is a kind of high-speed, safe and comfortable track system with low-level pollution and great passenger-handling capacity. It shoulders the task of passenger transportation of the city.
With the opening of the Beijing Subway Line 5 on October 7, the city now has five public transport rail lines in operation, bringing additional relief to the city's traffic congestion. More relief is to come before the 2008 Olympic Games rolls around, in the form of three additional Beijing Subway lines – Line 10, the Olympics Spur Line, and the Airport Extension.
Clean, efficient, graffiti-free and very fast, the subway is an appealing alternative to the bus, though again be prepared for enforced intimacies during rush hours. Mao Zedong ordered its construction in 1966, and more than 20km were open within three years, but until 1977 it was reserved for the use of senior cadres only, apparently because it was too close to the underground defence network.
The subway operates from 5.30am to 11pm daily and entrances are marked by a logo of a square inside a "C" shape. Tickets cost ￥2 per journey; buy them from the ticket offices at the top of the stairs above the platforms. It's worth buying a few at once to save queuing every time you use the system. The tickets are undated slips of paper and an attendant at the station takes one from you before you get on to the platform. All stops are marked in pinyin, and announced in English and Chinese over an intercom when the train pulls in, though the system is not taxing to figure out as there are only two lines.
A loop line runs around the city, making useful stops at Beijing Zhan, Jianguomen (under the flyover, close to the Ancient Observatory and the Friendship Store), Yonghe Gong (50m north of the temple of the same name), and Qianmen, at the northern end of Qianmen Dajie. The east-west line runs from the western suburbs to Xidan, just west of the centre, and is more of a commuters' line; useful stops are at the Military Museum and Fuxingmen, where there's an interchange between the two lines. A planned extension to the east-west line, taking it east to Jianguomen station on the loop line, should be completed in late 1999.