We are ready! A special week-long series

I am not in Beijing this week, so I don't have much to say about the air. But on the general topic of being ready for the Olympic games, some other interesting things are turning up.

For the record, two important and familiar points of context. First, no one in China or anywhere else will be better off if the Chinese public ends up feeling under-appreciated or aggrieved about the Beijing Games. So it's better all around if they're a success. And second, notwithstanding the previous point, for the last few months Chinese government has been doing just everything it can to ensure that the games don't win China any good will. (Denying visas to visitors, limiting broadcast rights, tightening the vise on foreign and domestic journalists, etc.)

Today's installment: public transport.

I mentioned recently that two subway lines that are crucial to Olympic transport plans -- the airport express, to bring visitors in from PEK airport, and the special line to the Olympic venues themselves -- have had their opening delayed, along with another, Line 10, that is crucial to my own transport happiness. They're all now scheduled to open later this month, immediately before the games.

After the jump, an account from a reader who talked recently in Beijing with two foreign engineers directly involved in getting the subways going. I can't vouch for this personally, but I have heard other accounts that parallel several of these points. (The source also provided other details about the engineers' bona fides.) As an expectant rider of Line 10, I really hope this report turns out to be too pessimistic:

- The promised number of trains (40) is not going to happen by the time
the games open. They felt that 28 would be optimistic at this point.

- The variety of overlapping bureaucracies were maddening. Apparently,
there are municipal authorities, the Olympic organizing people, the
transportation authority, and the airport operation. Some days they're
told to get to work at noon by one of the parties. And then other
needed people on the project don't show up until 8pm. So they work
until the morning anyway.

- The trains are in a sort of limbo right now, having been delivered,
but not put into service. As a result, each of the various groups is
trying to "own" them at this point. Competing tantrums rule the day as
the trains "change hands."

- The system likely (or certainly?) won't launch as a driverless system,
as had been planned at some point.

- The drivers that will be used are experienced with subways are
performing poorly at this point. The guys seemed pessimistic that they
would be competent by the time the games opened. (They explained some
differences in braking that were beyond my comprehension.)
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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