Feb 13, 2010

China vs the USA-Who has the best Trains?

We try to keep up with and write about the state of rail in the USA vs in other developed countries.
We are embarrassed by the state of rail in the USA especially since many movies filmed pre 1940 have rail as a part of the action or setting. What we are saying is that the USA had a heck of a start on rail as an infrastructure and fast rail should have followed. BUT America despite introducing the world to many great technologies, sometimes sits on it's fanny when projecting out important population-friendly institutions such as transportation infrastructure. We'd rather go to another country, often thru invasion, and set up their infrastructure while leaving America's old and shoddy.

Here are excerpts from a NYTimes article on the state of Chinese fast rail as the Chinese New Year arrives necessitating the movement of much of the country from the cities to the country for a fortnight.(China sees Growth Engine in a Web of Fast Trains-by Keith Bradsher-2-12-10)

-The Chinese bullet train, which has the world’s fastest average speed, connects Guangzhou, the southern coastal manufacturing center, to Wuhan, deep in the interior. In a little more than three hours, it travels 664 miles, comparable to the distance from Boston to southern Virginia. That is less time than Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, takes to go from Boston just to New York.

-Even more impressive, the Guangzhou-to-Wuhan train is just one of 42 high-speed lines recently opened or set to open by 2012 in China. By comparison, the United States hopes to build its first high-speed rail line by 2014, an 84-mile route linking Tampa and Orlando, Fla.

Of course the Florida rail line is still not shovel ready and like many similar projects may or may not be completed?

Indeed, the web of superfast trains promises to make China even more economically competitive, connecting this vast country — roughly the same size as the United States — as never before, much as the building of the Interstate highway system increased productivity and reduced costs in America a half-century ago.

As China upgrades and expands its rail system, it creates the economies of large-scale production for another big export industry. “The sheer volume of equipment that they will require, and the technology that will have to be developed, will simply catapult them into a leadership position,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s vice president for policy and development.

We must realize that China and the USA are VERY different countries and that the network of air travel in North America is perhaps unrivaled in the world. Certainly it is a productivity enhancer big time. But it also contributes more greenhouse gas than rail.

In many ways the world needs to be happy that China is developing these rails. Can you imagine if all these people did take airplanes? The contribution to pollution would be very sad.

And of course as we see here, China can move Yuan around much more liberally than can the USA which has so many interests competing for the $ in it's social democracy.

After China joined the World Trade Organization in November 2001, exports and manufacturing soared. Electricity generation failed to keep up because the railway ministry had not built enough rail lines or purchased enough locomotives to haul the coal needed to run new power plants.

By 2004, the government was turning off the power to some factories up to three days a week to prevent blackouts in residential areas.

Officials drafted a plan to move much of the nation’s passenger traffic onto high-speed routes by 2020, freeing existing tracks for more freight. Then the global financial crisis hit in late 2008. Faced with mass layoffs at export factories, China ordered that the new rail system be completed by 2012 instead of 2020, throwing more than $100 billion in stimulus at the projects.

Local rail or light rail is really pretty good in many large US cities. The rub is connecting the cities by fast rail. Joe Biden seems to be a big proponent of this effort and may be just the sales type guy the American fast rail needs to succeed.

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