After a slow start by city planners and state-controlled contractors, the
most challenging race of the 2008 Beijing Olympic may prove to be the rush to
build a 28km high-tech rail link between the Chinese capital's airport and the
While other Olympics-related projects appear to be on or ahead of schedule,
planners have left little margin for error in the construction schedule for the
high-profile airport link.
"Some people are worried about whether work will be completed on time. We are
also worried," says an official of Beijing Dongzhimen Airport Express Rail, the
company created to build and operate the line.
Under the project's timetable, construction of the line is to be completed by
the end of 2007, with test operation to start in April 2008 and a formal opening
just one month before the August start of the games.
Such a short timetable for a project of this type is unprecedented, says
Zhang Jianwei, chief country representative for Bombardier, the Montreal-based
transport equipment company responsible for the line¡¯s core technology.
"The biggest challenge for us is time ... the schedule is very, very tight,"
says Mr Zhang.
Still, he stresses that he is confident Bombardier can meet its
responsibilities and notes that Chinese contractors working 24 hours a day
routinely complete projects in times that would be impossible in other
For Bombardier, which will supply core systems and project management
expertise through Chinese partner Changchun Railway Vehicles, the airport link
is a flagship project that will showcase its advanced electric linear-motor
The system will be only the second automated "driverless" trains in China
after another shorter link between Beijing airport terminals that is also being
supplied by the Canadian company, Mr Zhang says. Even if the line opens on time,
however, the need for haste could make it harder for civil works contractors to
maintain the construction standards on its raised tracks and underground
Concerns over the timetable also highlight a wider lack of transparency
surrounding the airport link, which has been described by a local newspaper as a
"mystery to the public".
Bombardier is the only company involved that has released detailed
information about its role.
Such is the lack of information about the project that it is unclear when
civil works construction actually began. Some work reportedly started in June
last year, but municipal officials said then that it had been postponed because
of delays in winning central government approval.
It is also unclear why the timing of the project, which has been under
detailed planning since at least 2001, was allowed to become so tight.
Local media reported in January 2005 that selection of the train supplier had
been "basically decided", but confirmation came only when Bombardier announced
its involvement in March this year.
Dongzhimen Airport Express also declines to give any details of the companies
chosen to build the 11 separate sections of the line, with one senior project
official saying he does not even know how many contractors are involved. "[I]
haven't counted them," he says.
Such opacity is common in Chinese infrastructure projects, though officials
have in the past stressed the need for greater transparency to curb rampant
public works corruption.
The line is being built under a "build-operate-transfer" contract, but a
senior Dongzhimen Airport Express official says he is "unclear" about the terms
of investment and admits the city government has yet to set out the details of