The Best Transport
pedestrians, constant bumper-to-bumper traffic, hand-over-nose breathing.
A familiar enough experience in Asia's crowded metropolises. That
this is not a daily occurrence in capitals like Tokyo is due to
one thing: mass rail transport. The rush-hour crush in the biggest
Japanese cities, already a trying routine, might well resemble urban
warfare but for their extensive subway systems (about 171 km in
Tokyo and 115 km in Osaka). In Hong Kong, 2.5 million passengers
use the clean and efficient MTR service every day. The air quality
would certainly be a lot worse if the commuters turned to conventional
buses. (Calculated on a per passenger journey basis, experts say,
buses emit 100 times the level of respirable particles generated
by mass rail.) Ditto for congestion.
Bangkok's Skytrain, which finally opened last December
after years of delay, has helped improve the city's notoriously
Bangkok's new Skytrain, a mere 23-km system, is already credited
with improving traffic by about 4%. Which is why cities around the
region are investing in rail lines. Singapore is to extend its 83
km of mass-rail lines by another 20 km. In China, Beijing is adding
13.5 km to its existing system, compared to 23 km in Guangzhou and
27 km for Shanghai. Delhi is fast coming into line too. The Indian
capital expects to have a 55-km network in place by 2005
along with an astounding 50% reduction in air pollution.
Then there is Hong Kong's ambitious program to expand its rail links
to 250 km by 2016 a hefty $25 billion investment over 15
years. Still, it pays to make tracks. The benefits: about 600 tons
less particle pollutants and 160,000 tons of greenhouse gases not
emitted every year.
Peggy Leung and Dan Woodley
Write to Asiaweek at email@example.com