Brian Salter's Blogs: Railway Graveyard, Or Culture Park?


Question: What do you do with thousands of tons of earth and debris removed from the construction site of a subway line? Well, if you are in Beijing the answer is quite straightforward… you construct a public park and give it some high-fallutin name like Beijing Subway Culture Park (北京地铁文化公园).

In Beijing’s case the 47-acre park – just south of Xihongmen on the Daxing Line – was opened in 2010, ostensibly to “commemorate the 40 year history of the Beijing Subway”. To be honest, it’s a bit of a hotch-potch of nice bits and not-so-nice bits – what we Brits call a “Curate’s Egg”, as is personified by the entrance itself.

But there is obviously a serious undercurrent running through the park’s management. “No Chair Sleeping”, we are warned; not to mention “No Plucking” and “No Chase in Water”. (The fact that there is no visible pond whatsoever, let alone a lake in the park does make one wonder how one could even attempt at breaking some of these rules.)

Before one gets much further into the park one is assaulted by another notice, this one specifically for tourists. Apart from being urged to “Make concessions for peace” (with whom, one might be tempted to ask), we also have to “deal with our public affairs differently from our private affairs” (sorry… I don’t normally conduct my affairs in public!), quite apart from “making an example of myself for healthy entertainment” (are they kidding?).

And if you have an inclination to shit outside, then forget it. You obviously have to be a local resident to be allowed to do that. Likewise if you want to do something illegal such as cooking, you’d better head elsewhere.

Once past that barrage of prohibitions, the first thing that greets the eye is a very sad looking subway train carriage that once plied the tracks of Line 1. Rust, dirt and debris are prevalent, though if you have ever wanted to get up real close to a piece of Beijing’s transportation history, then here is your perfect opportunity.

Just spitting distance away (words that Beijingers tend to take literally) is the Peak Podium – a walkway that can give you a bird’s eye view of the park. You can choose to walk through one of the two turnstiles or unimpeded through the central gangway. The choice is yours.

And what a view you get. Why, there’s another lonely railway carriage …

… and a pattern of criss-cross lines laid out on the ground…

… which on closer examination turns out to be a simplified schematic of the entire subway system. It even looks as though the Perspex-covered lines could be lit up at night time, though that’s the last thing on anyone’s mind at midday. The end of each line is labelled appropriately enough with the name of the line itself. And the fact that the entire map area is made up of bricks gives one the idea that the map will be updated as new lines are added, it being a relatively simply job to dig up a brick and lay down some Perspex in the gap left behind.

Spitting distance downwind, there is a snazzy piece of light blue tunnel that leads nowhere; but it is pretty.

There are also some relief tableaux which are rather cute I think…

Here’s Stephenson’s Rocket in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. The caption reads ‘The earliest train in the world’, somewhat ignoring the fact that the Rocket ran up near Liverpool, while the first passenger service operated by steam trains ran between Liverpool and Manchester. But let’s not get pedantic! Who cannot be touched by such artistic flair?

And as these hackney cabs are being driven on the left hand side of the road, one can only assume that they too are in the UK. Yes, yes. ‘The earliest carriage in the West’ reads the caption, again asking one to put aside any historical niceties, on the basis of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Moving on apace, there is yet another old carriage – or to be more specific, a full train load of carriages – this time in much better condition than the previous two specimens.

And if you can reach up to the (filthy) windows, you can use your phone cam to look inside. It all seems very bare and unappealing – not like today’s colourful carriages.

In those days (hey, it wasn’t that long ago!) you had the entire central area of the metro system displayed on the carriage maps. It might be entitled Lines 1&2, but you can also catch a glimpse of Lines 4, 5, 13, the Airport Express and the Batong Line.

Railway memorabilia apart, the rest of the park is quite well kept. There’s the obligatory piece of rock with Sakura Park (or Cherry Blossom Park) daubed in red over it …

… while someone has been busy digging some more trenches ready for… well it’s not quite clear for what they are being dug right now. Maybe there will be a display of cut-and-fill technique one day. Who knows?

Meanwhile there is a rather attractive 12m-high sculpture made out of what looks like old rails depicting a train rushing through a (very narrow) tunnel complete with ‘go-faster’ trails behind it.

And if you are into rose gardens at all (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) there are masses of roses all over the place – many of which are still blooming towards the end of November.

OK, so this might not be the most amazing of Beijing’s parks; but it is unusual to say the least; and if you are set on visiting the capital’s southern IKEA store, you could easily combine the two into a truly enjoyable day out.

To get to Beijing’s Subway Culture Park, take exit A from Xihongmen on the Daxing Line and walk just over a kilometre southbound, whence you will find the park on the right hand side of the road. Entrance is free.