Image from "the transport politic" (click for full size)

A while ago the transport politic reported that Shanghai has passed London and has the world’s largest metro.* Shanghai started from zero in 1995; not yet satisfied, they plan to add roughly a New York City subway equivalent to that by 2020.

You can always count on China for an absurd superlative. It’s clear that in the United States we couldn’t possibly build so much as quickly, thanks to both property rights and environmental law.** But it’s also worth noting that China has made this a national priority of sorts.

The nation’s budget situation hasn’t been good for a decade or so, but governments of both right and left have, on several occasions in that time, come up with trillion-dollar-plus lumps of funding for their priorities. Sometimes it was deficit-funded, at others they found offsetting revenue. The point is that if we want it enough they find a way.

Don’t let anyone tell you that vision is impossible.

* excludes London’s light rail elements.

** to be clear, both good things.

33 Replies to “Shanghai Metro the World’s Largest”

      1. New York has quadruple tracks and several parallel tunnels that are switchable. It’s not uncommon on weekend nights for a local train to run on the express tracks or down a different avenue during maintenance. Sometimes they even close a segment in lower Manhattan and have a shuttle bus (which is not that frequent and it’s hard to get info on exactly where it goes).

  1. I know of another city with a large and thorough Metro that was built when that country was a Stalinist dictatorship too.

    P.S. Always helps to have a seemingly endless supply of country bumpkins/agrarian serfs willing to move to the big city for a job.

    1. “endless supply of country bumpkins/agrarian serfs ”


      Having said that we do have a large supply of relatively low-wage workers in many US cities.

  2. You know, this map may look good and everything, but you actually need to be there in Shanghai to realize that the system still isn’t the “be-all, end-all” of metro systems. When I stayed in Shanghai last October, my hotel on Zhoajiabang Rd was still at least 2k from metro lines 4, 7 and 9. I did a lot of walking that week to get to any of those lines. I’ll be there next month as well and my new hotel is 1.5k from any station and with the 2020 extenstions, this won’t change.

    So while this is a great thing for Shanghai, it doesn’t take into affect how large this area is, that it covers a population of 23 million plus people and there is still a great distance between some of the stations. Shanghai will continue to need buses and people will still continue to have to walk a lot to stations if they elect not to take buses.

    1. I’ll say it again. Transit is a System, and if some riders (snobs) choose to omit one mode for personal reasons, well then tough on them.

    2. I was in Shanghai a few months ago. I concur that there are still many gaps in the system that require much walking to the nearest station. Shanghai is *huge*!

      Also, many of the transfers are quite long (some require exiting the system entirely) because they didn’t always want to knock down the buildings directly above the crossing point of two lines. If you’ve transfered from Times Square to the Port Authority in NYC, you have an idea of what a quarter of the stations in Shanghai are like.

      1. Exactly. The Shanghaiese don’t mind the walk, the transfers, the buses or even the metro. In fact, I loved it! I did succumb to a taxi late at night, but used their excellent system the whole time I was there.

    3. Here’s a tip: choose a hotel near a metro stop. This even worked last week for me in Dallas of all places.

      When you and a few million others make these kinds of choices, over time development happens at stations. Transit can’t be designed to serve everywhere. But over time most places worth going can end up by transit.

  3. Isn’t the rail system in Tokyo the largest!? According Wikipedia, the daily ridership is 40 million, and the total track length is 2,578 km. The unique thing about this rail system (or rail system in Japan in general) is that the system is owned by private operators, and there are more than a few operators within a single metropolitan area. That’s why it’s hard to find an exact ridership (because of double-counting issue) and many misunderstand the ridership and track length of Tokyo Metro, which is just one of the 13-ish operators in Tokyo, as the total of the metropolitan area.

    Here is the link to the system map

    1. The ‘system’ in Tokyo is really several interoperating systems. A more accurate comparison would be between the Tokyo Metro and the Shanghai Metro.

      1. No, that would be a more nonsensical and administratively arbitrary comparison.

        An accurate comparison would be every full rapid transit line in the built-up urban area that is unconnected to the national rail network (sorry, Yamanote).

        Because the average rider doesn’t care who owns/runs the thing. Just how it functions.

      2. Then when calculating ridership for buses in the area, Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit should be added together since they all serve the Seattle area. Well, at least CT’s commuter routes should be included.

      1. I think d.p. is correct. Why compare a specific agency against many agencies?

        My “commuter rail” train, the Den-en-toshi line, ran every three minutes at peak and was underground most of the way. How is that not a metro?

  4. Out of curiosity for those who’ve been on the Shanghai system, is any of the wayfaring signage in English or is it strictly Chinese (Mandarin?)?

      1. The wayfaring signage is pretty helpful and easy for English speakers. Though not as completely effortless as I found Taipei’s metro to be.
        And the new #10 line looks pretty sleek in the stations.

      2. Careful when you get off the world’s fastest Maglev from the airport. There’s a sign that points you toward the Metro, but you might get confused as it takes you past a giant sign that says “Metro”. It turns out this is a supermarket named “Metro”. Very convenient for those in the city, but was more than a little confusing when trying to find my way to the subway.

  5. Seattle has alot of work to do. Two lines (Central and East Line) isn’t enough to make much dent to the traffic. I wish the government could make our rail infrastructure a #1 priority; the construction and planning needs to speed up.

    The next light-rail line ST needs to start building should start in Woodinvlle, and make a C-curve terminating in Renton via Kenmore, Lake City, Northgate Sta., Wdlnd Pk. Zoo, Queen Anne, Belltown, King Street Sta. (Intl.Dist.Sta.), West Seattle, Tukwilla Sta., Southcenter Mall, and Tukwila Sounder Station. This line could easily double the ridership of the entire Link System.

  6. From what I can tell the Shanghai system doesn’t stay open very late either, last train being sometime between 11 and 12. Is this correct?

  7. Martin,

    In addition to the consraints of property law an enironmental law, we can also add the absurd political culture in the United States and locally in the Seattle process which dictates that we have to discuss everything ad-nauseam. I doubt that Shanghai had one vote or discussion on expanding its network.

    In Seattle, we could have had a new monorail, the viaduct replacement tunnel, the 520 bridge and light rail to the Eastside long ago if not for all of the constraints you allude to along with the one I have just mentioned. The only one we really need is environmental considerations. Property rights are negotiable when there is a clear public need and political voting is just unacceptable where there is good strong legitimate leadership. Not saying the latter exists in China as it is a communist state but you get my drift here. As Thomas Friedman has often famously said in the New York Times, we need to be China for a day!

    1. Since I’ll be paying for it, and it’ll affect the city I live in, I’d rather my government take some input on what sort of massive infrastructure it builds, thanks.

      1. Maybe, but not endlessly – it just raises costs, shackles and not very efficient or conducive to results sooner rather than later when the needs are running well ahead of the tortuous process to get anything done. We need mass transit options now if not before now and not in the next 20 years and subject to how we feel when we wake up any one morning. Can you imagine Kemper Freeman being able to hold up progress in China?

    2. There’s also the no-tax people who believe they use hardly any government services. And the entrenched car culture who support peak-hour transit to park n rides, but not all-day transit for non-drivers. (Because who in their right mind would be a non-driver.)

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