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Residents urge rail access
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Is it possible to alter a subway project that broke ground over two years ago? Here an example of a group of average people who really made a difference.

The No.5 Beijing Subway Line is a bit of a dream come true for commuters who live along the line and spend hours en route to work every day. But according to previous plans, the long-dreamed-of subway, scheduled as an important project to facilitate transportation during the Olympics, was slated to have only one stop at Tiantongyuan.

Tiantongyuan is a large residential complex populated with hundreds of thousands of people residing in northern Beijing.

During rush hours of any workday, congestion can easily turn a stretch of only two kilometers into a lengthy, tedious trek. Commuters from the Taintongyuan neighborhood posted their accounts of daily pilgrimages online, carping and complaining about the mass transit system.

Even if there were only one subway stop in this area, the nearest station would be a 20-minute walk or longer. Moreover, rush-hour commuters would strain the transportation infrastructure to its limits if only one stop were available to receive and disperse passengers.

People began to talk about the possibilities of adding one more stop online. Many of them thought that the previous plan was unreasonable.

In fact, since 2004 some residents had been suggesting adding another stop on the Internet, but their posts yielded no tangible results.

Ruan Yazhan, a resident of the area, works as an engineer. He well knew that building one additional stop was technically feasible. “There is a chance,” he thought. He decided to post articles online to get public attention, calling upon local residents to take action.

He made a methodical plan to inform fellow residents what to do, racking his brains to think up all possible measures. He asked them to make calls, send letters and emails to every pertinent department, and even to use personal connections.

The citizens responded and continually made calls. They pestered departmental clerks, who became annoyed at the constantly ringing phones.

Indeed, their steadfast efforts caused a ruckus but soon the protestors relapsed into disappointment when they received a dismaying reply stating that the Olympic subway project was almost finished.

Fortunately, at the very moment when no further hope seemed possible good news arrived. Government authorities announced that they would get around to considering the petition to provide the requested convenience to local residents. After the statement came out field research and discussion followed.

About six months later residents happily witnessed workers starting work at creating subway doors, assembling machines and manpower.

On October 7 of last year the subway become a real thing of concrete and steel and went into use. Although commuting by subway is still a hard commute, passengers can temporarily forget the ground traffic that is often snarled for several hours.

Other residents may emulate this stirring success story but the victors admitted that this process was not easy. Grumbling, they recounted their dispute with an impassive, faceless government that refused to communicate.

"Although we eventually won our victory, we experienced no bilateral talks between us and the government. We just appealed, waited and worried," noted a resident.

"The government needs a scientific and top-down management system to attend to concerns voiced by the public," said Ruan Zhanya.

For now, Ruan Zhanya still opts to drive his own car but he feels hyped up whenever he sees the new subway stop.

( by He Shan, January 19, 2008)

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