What Happens When You Introduce Airport-Style Security to the World's Busiest Subway

The heightened security in Beijing comes after a recent terrorist attack. 

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Waiting to go through security during the morning rush hour at Tiantongyuan North Station, Beijing on May 27. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Beijing’s beleaguered commuters already have to deal overcrowded public transportation, massive traffic jams and air so dirty that biking to work is often not an option. This week brought a new woe: airport-style security at some subway stations, which created massive lines and long waits to get on trains in the first place.

Beijing’s subway network is the busiest in the world, and commuters take about 10 million rides a day between approximately 200 subway stations. Even a small malfunction, like a temporary signal failure, can lead to huge crowds on subway platforms.

“The usual subway security check no longer involves just ‘putting your bags through’ [an X-ray scanner] as commuters now have to be checked as though they are going through airport customs,” The Nanfang Insider reported. Nine stations have instituted the new checks, which according to Beijing police “should not take more than 30 minutes.” (link in Chinese)

The heightened security comes after attackers threw explosives into a crowded marketplace in Urumqi, western China, killing more than 30 people earlier this month. In response, China has announced a stepped-up fight against homegrown terrorism.

Beijing has also introduced a new helicopter fleet that is taking real-time surveillance photos at transport hubs, shopping centers and tourist hubs. And police patrolling subways are newly equipped with guns.

The added security checks at Beijing’s subway stations didn’t make some citizens feel much safer. As social media users traded photos of the Beijing commuter queues, many questioned the purpose of it all. Surely “throwing a bomb into this crowd would be more lethal” than setting one off on the subway, noted one skeptic (link in Chinese).

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

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About the Author

  • Heather Timmons is an Asia correspondent for Quartz.