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  (Source: Shutterstock)
U.S. is left in the dust as China blazes ahead with $1T USD rail bid

America may be witnessing its descent into the twilight in terms of being on the bleeding edge of transportation technology.  This week China, the world's most populous nation opened the world's longest stretch of high-speed rail.

Linking the capital city of Beijing in the north with the southern city of Guangzhou, the 2,298 kilometer (1,428 mile) line has already began ferrying passengers at 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph).  The line will cut the fastest travel time between the cities from around 20 hours to only 8 hours, making it a day trip.

150 pairs of trains (300 total) will run daily along the line, which passes through the provincial capitals cities Shijiazhuang, Wuhan and Changsha.  

The rail line was not achieved without setbacks.  The bullet train project's supervisor, the former railway minister, and the ministry’s chief engineer were both detained in a corruption probe after a bullet train crash killed 40 people in mid-2011 and after a section of track in central China collapsed under heavy March rains.  China had to rebuild some of the line and slow test runs after finding corrupt contractors had used subpar building materials to construct sections of the track.

China rail launch
Chinese dignataries gather to celebrate the launch of the world's longest stretch of high-speed track. [Image Source: The Washington Post]

China, however, is not looking to let off the gas. It will have four major east-west lines, and three more major north-south lines by 2020, linking virtually every major city in China.  While the U.S. and other economic rivals initially expressed skepticism of China's ambitious rail plans -- which are expected to cost around $1T USD -- China has already achieved roughly half of its 18,000 kilometer goal for 2015, with 9,300 km (5,800 miles) of active high-speed track.

The Asian giant is also testing next-generation trains, which it hopes will travel at around 310 miles per hour, once again cutting travel time roughly in half.

The U.S., whose massively socialist national highway project was once perhaps the world's most ambitious and well-engineered transportation conduits, has balked at the proposal of a high-tech replacement for its aging government-owned roadways.  And the private sector in the U.S. has expressed precious little interest in such a project, due to the price and low profit potential.

China bullet train
One of the new bullet train hurtles down the track. [Image Source: Shutterstock]

It's hard to say for sure just how big an economic boost high speed rail will provide China, but it's expected to bring radical new opportunities to the nation.  To relate in U.S. terms, high speed rail would make commutes from Detroit to Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York City feasible for those willing to spend up to a few hours of their lives a day in transit possible, opening new job opportunities.

The U.S. has some high speed rail plans of its own, but the billions put forth by the Obama administration have been dwarfed by China's commitment, as have the program's respective successes.  With the activation of the Guangzhou and Beijing bullet train conduit, one has to wonder whether we are witnessing the passing of the technological torch from the U.S. to China, and what the economic impact of that leadership transition will be.

Sources: The Washington Post, Shutterstock

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By RufusM on 12/27/2012 12:29:08 PM , Rating: -1
It's hard to say for sure just how big an economic boost high speed rail will provide China

Most of the time there is no ROI for trains. Only those in quite densely populated areas have achieved any kind of ROI at all. The cost of a train ticket is almost always heavily subsidized.

Having said that, China's transportation needs are quite different than those of the US population. A national train system for people here makes zero sense to me. To me, virtual commuting makes much more sense for the US.

By TSS on 12/27/2012 12:44:13 PM , Rating: 4
Maybe not in the sense that the train itself makes money, but it definitly brings benifits. Business men in China would now be able to travel from one side of China to the other, do business, and be back in the same day. When you can reach a greater public to make deals, you've got more opperunity to expand.

Then when you actually expand into another part of china you just hire people locally. Those people still have no need for a high speed rail - but they now do have jobs they wouldn't have had without it. That, in turn, brings in more tax revenue which can be helped in part or maybe even in full to pay for the trains. That's why it's hard to judge it's economic impact, especially in a still developing nation as China.

As a mass transit system, no high speed rail makes sense. Rail hardly makes sense, depends way too much on population density. Trams or Monorails would be a far more efficient mass transit for within a city (using bicyles for even shorter distances), then use massive airplanes for longer distances between population centers and cars for the rest.

But as a transit for the middle and upper class, it beats airplane flights in comfort.

By dsx724 on 12/27/2012 12:46:27 PM , Rating: 2
Except the flight is 3 hours and the "fast" train ride is 8. I'd take the flight in first class please.

By dsx724 on 12/27/2012 12:48:31 PM , Rating: 2
Did I mention the flight ticket is only $120?

By RufusM on 12/27/2012 1:25:14 PM , Rating: 3
I suspect using a train versus plane has to do with the sheer numbers of people they are moving.

China has different needs than the US for transportation. I assume these trains will mainly be moving more rural people to the cities to work for a week/month/whatever then back home again for a break.

By Jeremy87 on 12/27/2012 1:42:50 PM , Rating: 2
3 hours plus 1 hour to get to/from the airport, 1 hour waiting for liftoff preparations etc.
Trains may still take more time for extreme distances, but they are more convenient, and later in the article they are looking to double the train speed once more.

By danjw1 on 12/27/2012 6:03:53 PM , Rating: 5
3 hour flight? I guess you aren't flying in the western world. Haven't you heard of TSA? While they have started smaller footprints for train and bus travel, it isn't anything like Airplane security. 3 hour flight and having to be at the airport 2 hours early to be sure you can actually get to and on the plane in time, makes it a 5 hour flight. And First Class? Sure if you are a CEO at a major corporation, but most travel business class at best. After all, employee comfort has to be second to those quarterly reports.

By yomamafor1 on 12/28/2012 4:04:58 PM , Rating: 2
You forgot the 1.5 hour to get through the security line, 1 hour to disembark and get your luggage, 1 hour to argue with the customer service for lost luggage, and 6 hours of having nothing to wear.

Oh, that is assuming your flight isn't delayed for 1~2 hours or cancelled outright, forcing you to sleep in the airport.

I think high speed trains are like SSDs. You just don't know what you're missing out on until you've actually experienced it.

By nafhan on 12/27/2012 3:12:00 PM , Rating: 1
But as a transit for the middle and upper class, it beats airplane flights in comfort.
...and for only a trillion dollars, too!

Where rail really shines from an economic perspective is for transporting freight, and for that, speed is usually less important than cost.

I also think that before long self driving cars will cancel out a lot of the other benefits of passenger rail travel (primarily being able to do things other than drive during your commute).

By PrinceGaz on 12/28/2012 4:19:39 PM , Rating: 2
Self driving cars? For high speed journeys of hundreds of miles? That seems like a crazy answer.

Rail is unbeatable for transporting large loads of freight over land as happens in the US.

Rail is also extremely good at transporting large numbers of passengers very quickly over distances of hundreds of miles as happens across much of western Europe, as well as China now. Japan realised that decades ago.

For long distances air travel will always be quicker than rail (though by an ever reducing amount unless a replacement for Concorde is developed), but rail is always going to be a lot cheaper to run than the equivalent plane journey, which makes a long distance rail journey (perhaps overnight asleep) a better option than several hours on a cramped plane.

By StanO360 on 12/27/2012 1:20:44 PM , Rating: 2
Don't know about the last couple of years. But there were only three lines that actually paid for themselves (and I'm sure this does NOT include opportunity cost, infrastructure, capital costs) one in Japan, one in France, and DC-NY Amtrack.

By Lord 666 on 12/27/2012 11:47:12 PM , Rating: 2
And parts of that NY-DC stretch are STILL damaged due to Sandy which really slows down commutes along with killing reliability.

By Uncle on 12/27/2012 1:24:20 PM , Rating: 2
Always an American apologist with excuses, for not being No1. Your interstate highways weren't built by Capitalist, good thing for that otherwise you would be traveling on dirt roads. Some time the state has to intercede for the benefit of the many instead of the few.

By integr8d on 12/27/12, Rating: 0
By Uncle on 12/27/2012 1:51:33 PM , Rating: 2
Capitalists don't pay taxes or next to nothing. Its the everyday Joe Sixpack that pays the taxes that get shoveled into the pockets of the Corporate welfare bums, Wall St. Banks, Exxon, GE, apple, Google, Im sure you could name a few yourself.

By Uncle on 12/27/12, Rating: -1
By Shig on 12/27/2012 2:07:13 PM , Rating: 2
Read a little before you ask about fantasy ROI numbers.

By Motoman on 12/27/12, Rating: 0
By nafhan on 12/27/2012 3:36:44 PM , Rating: 2
capitalism = Chinese economic system

By Cheeseavatar on 12/27/2012 5:13:58 PM , Rating: 3
I think you all need to redeine what socialism mean.

The definition of the word is "a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole."
This was gotten from

If you think that America is capitalist. I am afrid to tell you that that is quite unture.

You have nationalized your banks (like AIG) your car companies (GM & Crystler) etc. That is the simple term of nationalization which is "Socialism"

Also America has many socialist policies that for some reason you dont want to believe is socialist.
Public Schools
The police
These are all socilist

Also, capitialist do not spend their own money on road. Goverment spends tax money on roads. Thats the goverments money, not the corporations.

I think before you comment on what certian political theories are you should understand what it means.

Also nafhan, you are right the chinese econmic system is capitalist... they where never communist.

Acutally communism never exisit on a large scale (even when the USSR was kicking around) the best any country got to was "State Capitalism"

By Cheeseavatar on 12/27/2012 5:14:40 PM , Rating: 2
sorry bout any spelling mistakes...

I didnt proof read...

By nafhan on 12/27/2012 3:34:45 PM , Rating: 2
The ROI on high speed rail was being discussed. The person you're responding to didn't say anything negative about China. Rather, he said the same system wouldn't be as good of a fit in the US. Similar things get said any time high speed rail comes up.

Anyway, your other stuff. Interesting fact about the Interstate Highway system: a major reason it was funded and built was for use by the military. American generals (specifically Eisenhower) saw how well the German highway system worked for transporting troops, etc., the American government emulated and improved on that. From the perspective of goals the highway system was set out to accomplish (improve interstate commerce and military mobility), it's arguably been a good investment.

Also, from a purely economic perspective China is definitely a capitalist country. So... technically the high speed rail in China is being built by "capitalists". Relevant Wikipedia quote:
Modern-day China is mainly characterized as having a market economy based on private property ownership, and is one of the leading examples of state capitalism.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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