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May 29, 2013

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20 years on the fast track

AS train No. 101 inched toward the Jinjiang Amusement Park Station on Metro Line 1 at 10am yesterday, technician Liu Xujun and engineer Huangfu Xiaoyan complimented each other amid a flurry of flash bulbs around them.

The cameras were around to capture an historic occasion.

It was the same train that was put into service 20 years ago when the Shanghai Metro became operational.

It then covered a distance of 6.6-kilometers from the city's Xujiahui area to Jinjiang Amusement Park, which was the train terminal.

"Twenty years ago, you came to us with the translated scripts of the blueprints and we talked how to maintain and repair the trains," Liu told the engineer.

"Now a young man has become a middle-aged person."

Both of them are growing old with the Shanghai Metro, which is coming on its own as well.

Twenty years since that historic start, Metro line construction is picking up in the suburban areas. Each year the city lays out about 30 kilometers of track, which is still considered moving at "a fast pace."

Three extended sections of Metro lines will be operational this year. The current Metro lines stretches 430 kilometers in total.

The future development of subways in Shanghai must take into account the entire development of the city, the Shanghai Metro Authority said.

A lot of projects are still underway as it rides on the fast track of development.

"We should take a long-term view," said Gu Weihua, the vice-president of Shanghai Shentong Metro Group, the subway investor, builder and operator.

"The passenger estimate figure is not enough. We should consider the future passenger increases as well as the urban and rural development."

Shanghai has one of the fastest growing passenger volume in the world.

The city's 12 subway lines transport an average of more than 7 million people daily.

Twenty years ago, Line 1 handled just 1.06 million riders in the whole year.

But not everything is rosy. Metro lines 6 and 8 regularly deals with the problem of overcrowded carriages and frequent breakdowns as the authorities have little time for maintenance.

"Almost all the trains are running round the clock," Liu said. He said workers in four shifts toil more than 10 hours a day to ensure the smooth operation of more than 3,000 subway carriages.

Recent efforts to restrict passengers have drawn complaints and criticisms. But it seems to be the only solution as some stations have smaller platforms, and adding carriages will simply not work.

Gu said the signal system was also being upgraded to cut the interval time between trains down to two minutes and 90 seconds during the rush hours.

He promised that future stations and the ones under construction will be larger and wider with more room for transit.

But for now, it was a reason to celebrate.

"What a wonderful memory," said the 41-year-old Cao Jian, the driver of the first Train No. 101 twenty years ago as he stood inside the carriage as one of the guests yesterday.

"Another 20 years, and the line will see my retirement."

Behind Cao, some passengers looked at the old pictures of the line while the young rushed to work, but rarely if any noticed the driver who made history.


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