Beijingers who hop on the rickety Batong line every morning, or head home on the dingy Line 2 train, may very well have plenty of gripes about our city's transit. But a state-of-the-art, new line will soon be unveiled in one of the city's most outlying routes. The yet-to-be-completed Yanfang Line, which will be located way on the fringe of Beijing's southwest corner as an extension of the already far-flung Fangshan Line, has been selected to be China's first fully automated subway tube.

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Officials say the driverless train will be ready to run by the end of 2017. On August 29, Xinhua reported that the train's every aspect – from arrivals and departures, door openings and closings, cleaning, and more – will all be entirely automated. And the sci-fi like upgrades won't stop there – if the Yanfang's driverless test runs are successful, then lines 3, 12, 17, 19 and even a new airport expressway will also be automated. From there the project is expected to pick up momentum so that, within the next four years, such driverless lines will sprawl across a staggering 300km of Beijing's transit network.

There's no word yet about the safeguards being put in place to ensure the technology is utterly faultless. And Beijing's current subway drivers are no doubt rattled by the prospect of having their livelihoods taken by an automated system. Yet technological progress keeps rolling right along, and officials are clearly eager to tout the new driverless system's technological sourcing – becuase it's entirely domestic – along with the automated system's placement within the country's "Made in China 2025" initiative, which, according to Xinhua, "aims to comprehensively upgrade Chinese industry by that quarter-of-the-century deadline.

If Beijing's subway has successful automatic opperation by that late 2017 deadline, than other locales will look on with a mix of envy and concern. Toronto, for instance, won't be ready for such driverless trains until "at least 2018," according to the Toronto Star, which noted in 2014 that Shanghai (the Chinese metropolis' Line 10, to be precise) and Vancouver had already achieved that benchmark. That article also featured a reader survey titled "Would you board a driverless train?" with options such as "Yes, they are perfectly safe," "Heck no, I want someone at the wheel," and "Maybe. Not sure yet," all being available for the public to vote on.

And while the notion of automated transit lines might seem dangerously futuristic in some lagging locales, they are very much the norm in numerous other cities like Tokyo, Delhi, Sao Paulo, Paris, and more (according to this list of urban metro subway systems). Seeing as that's the case, Beijing had best hop on board quick so it's not left stranded on the platform.

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Photo: Xinhua

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