Regularly commuting on the Shanghai metro makes the experience so automatic that it’s easy to forget that all those underground tunnels with big metal trains rattling through them every day didn’t magically appear out of nowhere. In actual fact, the Shanghai metro system made its debut in 1993 and now spans more than 420 kilometres across a total of 12 lines and counting. The history – and future – of the metro is paid tribute at the Shanghai Metro Museum, which opened for a trial run at the end of October.
Upon entry, the first thing to do is stand in awe as the timeline of the city’s metro is evinced via an incredibly glitzy video on a vast, wraparound screen under a constellation of blue lights. The metro’s story is placed in a global context, so we get glimpses of its brothers and sisters across the world to the soundtrack of rousing music, which somehow manages the feat of making public transport emotional. The video is in Chinese, but you get the gist even if you don’t understand the language.
From here, the exhibition starts, naturally enough, at the beginning, with photos of what the Shanghai streets looked like before the inauguration of the metro (very crowded indeed, as it happens), along with early tickets and staff uniforms on show.
Aside from the historic aspect, the museum is vastly comprehensive: you learn exactly how they build those tunnels, what goes on when the metro shuts at night, and find out information about your favourite metro stops splashed across a huge screen-pool.
There are also some nifty interactive features – we now know first-hand what happens when you jam the emergency button in the carriage (not telling), you can put together a train yourself using nothing but a touchscreen and best of all, you can have a go at driving a train – well, on a simulator anyway. You also get a look at what the map will look like when the myriad new lines are completed. Overall, it’s well worth a visit.
By John Ovans