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World's biggest jam: 100 km long, moves at 1 km/day

August 25, 2010 16:19 IST

Even traffic jams don't come small in China, where big is as big as it gets. Here's a sneak peak at the world's largest traffic jam, which has got thousands of trucks and cars stranded in China's busiest motorway, with passengers taking five days to clear the 100-kilometre lam.

The next time you are stuck in peak hour bottleneck, instead of cursing the traffic do some simple math. You are stuck in 10-day long, 100-kilometre jam, with traffic sometimes moving just 1 kilometre a day. You will take five days to clear the stretch. When will you reach home?

This is exactly what has happened on China's National Highway 110, which connects inner Mongolia to Beijing. The stalled traffic stretches from Jining in Inner Mongolia to Huai'an in Hebei province, northwest of Beijing. Thousands of vehicles have been stuck bumper-to-bumper, unable to move as road works have halted traffic on China's busiest motorway. Drivers are taking five days to cross the section and with new vehicles adding up to the snaking line, there seems to be no end to the jam in the coming weeks.

What caused the jam

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in road building in China and vehicle use has also soared in the period. But the road works that have chocked traffic now are necessary to repair the damages caused by an increase in cargo lorries using the highway.

Trucks carrying coal from Inner Mongolia heavily rely on this motorway, which is part of the Beijing-Tibet expressway. In fact, over the last few years, traffic on this road has grown 40 percent every year.

Also, this year, China overtook the United States as the largest car market in the world, and has embarked on a huge expansion of its road system.

The average speed of a car during morning commuting hours in the capital is 14.5 mph and is expected to drop to 9 mph by 2015, according to figures released Tuesday by the Beijing Transportation Research Center to state news media.

Massive jams have always been a bane in China, with even a single truck breakdown having the potential to cause extended jams lasting several days. Even by those standards this jam looks monumental.

On the surface, the cause of the current jam was a spike in traffic by heavy trucks heading to Beijing along with road maintenance work that began five days later. The road constructions that are said to contribute heavily to the traffic jam are said not to end until mid-September. Minor breakdowns and accidents have only compounded the problem.

Though some blame the high toll fees on the roads in neighbouring Shanxi province, and the sharp increase in car volume, the real culprit, according to a Christian Science Monitor article, is coal.

Other reports also said China's restrictions on illegal coal production has increased the demand for coal to be illegally produced in inner Mongolia and shipped to Beijing on this route, which has no coal checkpoints.

Traffic has been building on the highway since the opening of several Mongolian coal mines, vital for China's booming economy, which this month surpassed Japan's in size and is now second only to the US'.

China relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs. For years, small illegal coal mines in Shanxi province provided Beijing and its surroundings with coal but so many of the mines would collapse or explode, and so many miners would die, (over 1,600 nationwide last year according to official figures) that the local authorities have closed most of them down, the CSM report said.

That is all very well, but Inner Mongolia, to the north of Shanxi, has taken up the slack. And an awful lot of the trucks currently snarled on the G110 expressway to Beijing are carrying coal mined illegally in the region.

They are taking the G110, the Beijing News quoted some of these drivers as saying, because there are no coal checkpoints on that highway.

What is the situation of the stranded people

The locals have cashed in on their captive market of stranded drivers and are selling water, instant noodles, and cigarettes at inflated prices. A bottle of water, which normally costs 1 yuan, is sold for 10 yuan (about Rs 70) in the highway.

Drivers have also complained that the price of instant noodles has more than tripled. Some vendors have created mobile stores on bicycles and motorbikes. They sell simple boxed meals of rice, vegetables and pork for 10 yuan each. The stranded drivers, who spend their time text messaging, reading, sleeping, walking around, or playing cards and chess, have no other choice, reports said. Some were angry that despite the huge number of people stranded, authorities have not set up even portable toilets for the drivers.

When will it clear

China's state media reported that authorities were trying to ease the congestion by allowing more trucks to enter Beijing, especially at night, and asking trucking companies to suspend operations or take alternatives routes.

But even as that was announced, reports of more congestion poured in, this time on surrounding roads as drivers tried to circumvent the jam.

The mega blockage – the second in two months on a stretch of road about 130 miles northwest of the capital – could last for three more weeks, at the least authorities conceded.

The Rediff News Bureau