Shanghai’s Subway Looks to New York, but Not for Everything

But the similarities largely end there.

New York’s subway struggles with chronic delays, partly because of mechanical breakdowns but also because of debris on the tracks and even people falling off platforms. The city has begun an intensive campaign of cleaning tracks of debris, to reduce the frequency of fires. Only two lines — the Lexington Avenue subway and the Queens Boulevard line — are able to offer trains every two minutes, and other lines can be much slower. Much of New York’s signal and switch equipment was installed before World War II.

By contrast, Shanghai’s trains are not only frequent but also dependable. The city’s subway claims to have an on-time rate of 99.8 percent. People or trash seldom fall on the tracks: thick, clear barriers of reinforced glass separate the platforms from the tracks, with sliding doors that open only when a train is in the station. Trains run every two minutes on the busiest lines, and almost as frequently on the other lines.

New York does have its advantages — particularly for night owls.

Subway systems in Shanghai, and across China, shut down every evening. Only in the last few months has Shanghai even extended the closing time for its most heavily used lines to midnight, while other routes still close as early as 10:30 p.m.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority takes pride in keeping all 472 of its stations open 24 hours a day.

It is able to do so because of the foresight of its builders more than a century ago, said Shao Weizhong, the Shanghai Metro vice president overseeing the system’s operations and management center. The New York system was built with express train tunnels in addition to local train tunnels. So subway cars can take turns during the night running through the local tunnels and the express tunnels, with maintenance conducted on whichever tunnel is not in use.

Shanghai’s subway system, like most such networks around the world, does not have separate local and express tunnels, so the entire system has to stop every night for maintenance. But the system’s newest and most technologically advanced line, Line 14, which is scheduled to open in 2020, will have parallel tracks along at least part of it for ease of maintenance, Mr. Shao said. He added that no decision had been made yet on whether to extend its hours of service.