Mexico City's new subway line alters transit map

Mexico City's new subway line

MEXICO CITY -- Maria Guadalupe Garcia usually spends two hours traveling from her home in southeast Mexico City's Tlahuac borough on bus and microbus to reach the city's west side.

On Tuesday, Garcia, 60, was one of the first riders of a new subway line inaugurated by the mayor and Mexico's president. She said she expects that those two hours of commuting will be reduced to 45 minutes.

"It's going to benefit us so much," Garcia said, standing with her husband, Angel Hernandez, on the platform of the Mixcoac station. "Now, we'll go with calm."

The 12th line of this city's moving hive of a subway system -- the loved and loathed el metro -- opened to the public in what leaders called the most significant and complex public-works project in recent Mexican history.

The new Line 12, or Gold Line, cost about $1.8 billion and is a capstone for the administration of outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. The line also represented an unprecedented test for engineers, planners and politicians  who had to fend off vigorous protests and legal challenges from some residents.

For riders, the line makes a crucial alteration to the transit landscape of Mexico City: It adds a lateral connection across the southern end of the metro map, crisscrossing four lines and creating transfer points where previously none existed.

The line also connects Tlahuac, a large, semirural expanse on the southeastern end of the metropolis, to the subway grid. End to end, Mixcoac to Tlahuac, the line stops at 20 stations across 15.5 miles of tunnels and elevated tracks.

More than 380,000 people are initially expected to use Line 12 daily. Overall, nearly 4 million passengers ride Mexico City's subway every day, making it one of the largest such systems in the world.

"This is an immense project for Mexico City," Ebrard said. "It is the longest line and turned out to be most complex. We are very proud of our engineers, our workers."

President Felipe Calderon said he was proud the federal government supplied funds for Line 12, meant to commemorate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence.

"It was worth it," Calderon said. "This ... is a sustainable solution to the problems of mobility and transport in Mexico City. Moreover, it minimizes the impact of pollution on the city, and that's fundamental."

By noon, smiling, cheering riders were joining the inaugural train on which Calderon and Ebrard briefly rode. An hour later, at Mixcoac station, commuters were already moving about the transfer point as hardy residents of this city do: earphones in, bags held close, eyes alert to the journey ahead.

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-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Juana Cisneros, 59, and Jose Hernandez, 52, were among the first riders of the new Mexico City subway line, Line 12, on Tuesday. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times


Don't bother yelling 'Taxi!' in Saudi Arabia anymore

Saudi woman boards taxi in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's Transport Ministry has come up with a novel way to cut traffic in the kingdom's congested cities: Taxis will now be banned from cruising the streets and picking up passengers without an advance booking.

The new policy, announced Friday, is part of a major revamping of the taxi system that will require drivers to install an Automated Vehicle Locator in their cars. The Big Brother-like device will allow authorities to track their every movement. Unauthorized stops, excessive speeds or driving without an assigned passenger pickup can lead to fines up to $1,300 or license revocation for repeat offenders,  Al Madina newspaper reported.

The new monitoring system was necessary to limit the number of vehicles on busy streets in the two main urban centers of the kingdom, Riyadh and Jeddah, where 31,000-plus taxis are licensed to operate, the newspaper said.

The change is expected to primarily affect women, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and banned from bus travel on most urban routes as well.

Anyone wanting a taxi -- even from heavily traveled venues like airports and shopping centers -- will have to call in advance to get a car dispatched, Al Arabiya news agency reported.

Neither news story specified when the new tracking system would go into effect.

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Photo: Saudi women are dependent on taxis for travel and errand-running as the kingdom prohibits women from driving, and most urban bus travel is exclusively for men. Credit: Fayez Nureldine / AFP/Getty Images


Nepal plane crash kills 15; six survive

A small plane with 21 people aboard crashed in Nepal, killing 15, including the pilot and co-pilot
NEW DELHI -- A small plane with 21 people aboard crashed in Nepal on Monday morning, killing 15, including the pilot and co-pilot. The accident, involving a Dornier 228 aircraft operated by Agni Air, occurred near Jomsom Airport about 125 miles northwest of Kathmandu. 

The charter flight from the city of Pokhara to Jomsom carried 16 Indian tourists, two Danish tourists and three Nepali crew members. Two Indian children, ages 6 and 9, and their 45-year-old male Indian relative, all with the surname Kidambi, survived and were listed in serious or critical condition, along with a Danish man and woman who were not immediately identified and a flight attendant, according to the Indian and Danish embassies in Katmandu.

The survivors were flown by helicopter to nearby Pokhara and admitted to the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, according to Apoorva Srivastava, an Indian Embassy official.

Narayan Dattakoti, a deputy inspector general of police, told reporters that early indications were that the aircraft was in good condition, although the terrain was challenging and the winds a bit stronger than usual. An investigation has been launched, he said.

The crash of the 11-year old aircraft reportedly occurred as the pilot was attempting a landing at the high-altitude Jomsom Airport, a gateway for trekkers and religious pilgrims.

The fuselage reportedly broke into pieces, although it did not catch fire. "The captain made a left turn and crashed into the mountain," Dattakoti said.

Nepal's prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, offered his condolences in a statement.

Impoverished Nepal with its weak regulatory structure, challenging topography and fast-building storms, has seen several aviation accidents in recent years, most involving small aircraft. Fly-around tours of Mt. Everest and other top Himalayan peaks are popular with tourists.  

Harshwardhan, an aviation expert and former Air India pilot who uses only one name, said the fact that the airplane crashed into a mountain tends to point to some sort of pilot error. "We're seeing too many accidents of a similar nature in a short period of time," he said.

A fundamental problem in India and Nepal is that bureaucrats tend to oversee civil aviation rather than independent safety boards, said M.R. Wadia, former president of the Mumbai-based Federation of Indian Pilots, an industry group.

In August 2010, a Dornier 228 operated by Agni Air crashed 20 minutes south of Katmandu in bad weather, killing 14 people, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national. And in September 2011, a Buddha Air plane ferrying tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mt. Everest crashed, killing all 19 people on board.

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Photo: Nepalese army soldiers transport a survivor to the city of Pokhara after an Agni Air plane crashed Monday near Jomsom Airport, killing 15 people and injuring six. Credit: Krishnamani Baral / Associated Press


32 killed in Siberian plane crash

32 killed in Siberian plane crash

REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Russian officials said 32 people were killed when a passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff in eastern Siberia.

The French-made ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop operated by UTair was flying from Tyumen to the oil town of Surgut. Officials said 39 passengers and four crew were aboard.

Twelve people were pulled alive from the crash shortly before 6 a.m. Monday and were airlifted by helicopter to a hospital, where one person later died, officials said.

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Photo: Russian Emergency Ministry rescuers and police officers search the site of the ATR-72 plane crash in Siberia, Russia, on Monday. Credit: Marat Gubaydullin / AP Photo


Iran opens biggest subway station yet, a dream long deferred

REPORTING FROM TEHRAN -- The biggest subway station in Iran opened this week in a wealthy northern district to government fanfare and rows of flowers, welcomed as a blessing by urbanites tired of traffic congestion.

Westerners may take subway systems for granted, but in Iran, the subway has been a dream long deferred. A French company started digging the tunnel a year before the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

When war erupted between Iran and Iraq in 1980, cooperation between French and Iranian companies was broken, delaying the work.

The project later resumed as a partnership between Iranian experts and Chinese companies. The Metro finally opened to passengers in 1999, with many lines still in the works. One Chinese executive recalled that each time a subway station is opened in Iran, it has been a dramatic celebration.

"It was like a festival for Iranians too. Almost all the top Iranian leaders attended the ceremonies. [Then-] President [Mohammad] Khatami was present twice. People just could not wait to throng into the stations," Shao Xiquan, chief of China International Trust and Investment Corp.'s Tehran headquarters, told the China Daily in 2004.

The newest station is the next step toward expanding the system. Iranian media reported that the station was about 160,000 square feet in size, equipped with 16 escalators for passengers to access trains more than 165 feet underground. It is expected to serve 100,000 passengers every day.

The Tajrish area where the station opened is a hip neighborhood for young Iranians wanting to see and be seen -- within the limits of the moral police. Nearby shops were excited by the prospect of new customers taking the subway to visit museums and tourist attractions in the area.

"The trading value of our shop has already increased," said Hasan Mohammadi, the owner of a grocery outside the station.

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-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


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