China / Hot Issues

The pride of a city, leaving or returning

By Wang Hao (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-24 08:11

As seen from the latest images on social media, Beijing shutterbugs can be very quick to snap the capital's iconic structures covered by the recent snowfall or the quaintly decorated snowmen put up by enthusiastic residents on street corners.

But the city should also be similarly up to speed when it comes to responding to extreme weather.

At about midnight on Sunday, I drove toward the Beijing South Railway Station, a high-speed rail hub, to pick up a friend. His train was delayed six hours because of the snowstorms in North China.

The entrance of the station was just about 100 meters from the underground parking lot, but the traffic hardly moved in an hour. Hundreds of passengers filing out of the delayed trains continued to wait in the station as vehicles honked furiously.

The traffic lights on the packed road were also not working, fueling the flared tempers.

The pride of a city, leaving or returning

As I waited at the road junction, I received messages about the airport being another "hot spot" of delays amid the cold that day - my colleagues who were scheduled on a flight out of the capital finally took off, after waiting in the plane for nine hours.

The thought of such a long wait sent shivers down my spine.

After calling my friend to check his whereabouts at the train station, I decided to pull my car off the long line. I got out and ran along the nearby ramp winding up to the departure hall, hoping to catch hold of him at the arrival hall below and take him to the car.

The doors to the departure hall were slowly closing as I spoke to one of the security guards, who said: "The doors must be closed because there are no more trains leaving the station. You can't get in from here."

Eventually, I had to run back to my car. With the help of location devices, I picked up my friend at 2 am. He was stranded in the crowd and ended up on the other side of the huge complex.

The Beijing South Railway Station was once the largest of its kind in Asia, the pride of the capital with its modern facilities and handling capacity.

But my latest experience highlighted how rigid management can choke that capacity to cope with extreme conditions such as bad weather.

In today's world, inclement weather is certainly not the worst-case scenario. But dealing with it is a start. On Sunday, dispersing the crowds and easing gridlock should have been the top priority. That would have helped diffuse any threat to public safety.

Without even considering the use of drones or other advanced technology to manage the traffic better, a simple solution would have been to open the departure hall ramp to vehicles so that the stranded passengers could be directed out of the complex and picked up as soon as possible.

Beijing's transport and urban management authorities should strive to take better care of its residents, and make it a home that they are proud of departing from or returning to.

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