China's Sometimes Scary Infrastructure

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After last week's subway accident, Adam Miniter pens some pretty scathing words about the Shanghai subway system:


Shanghai's subway riders (I am one) are all-too-familiar with bungling conductors who often ignore signals and don't line up train cars with platform doors. Shanghai Subway Line 10, along which the Sept. 27 accident took place, has only existed for 18 months but had already become notorious. One day, a train car's glass doors  spontaneously shattered. Another day, a conductor led a train down the wrong track, only to then make the dangerous decision to back the train up.

Subway commuters across China have been plagued by similar operational problems and the subway lines' overall sub-standard construction. In 2008, for example, 10 people were killed in eastern China when a subway tunnel collapsed.

After the Sept. 27 accident, Yu Shunshun, a well-known blogger, went to Sina Weibo, China's leading Twitter-like microblog, to give some advice to Shanghai's subway-wary citizens:

... Take the middle carriage whenever you are on a metro line or a high-speed train ... if the vehicle is overloaded, please send a message describing your position so as to make it easy for your relatives and friends to locate you. Make sure your cell phone has power before you step on any vehicle and be sure to pray for yourself.
In many cases, that's the best Shanghai's commuters can do to protect themselves.

As Shanghai's housing prices rise, residents have little choice but to move further and further away from the city center. They rely on the subway lines to get to work, but the lines were built quickly and shoddily. A common feeling among Shanghai's commuters is that the subway was not designed to serve them, but to enhance the status of Shanghai's Communist Party leaders.

I'm not sure it's possible to build so much infrastructure so quickly without cutting corners on quality.  But whether or not it's possible, it doesn't look as if China has managed.


On the other hand, as Miniter notes, what are you going to do?  The alternative is sleeping in a park.  Or staying home.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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