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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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RE: Last mile?
By lightfoot on 12/27/2012 2:27:04 PM , Rating: 2
This isn't replacing Airports, it's replacing buses and roads.

Why on earth would anybody choose this over air travel?

It's not faster, it's not safer, it's not more convenient, but it might be cheaper. But the cost savings simply aren't significant enough to spend the extra time.


RE: Last mile?
By Florinator on 12/27/2012 2:39:00 PM , Rating: 2
But I think it can be faster, over shorter distances. Of course a train would never beat a plan on a coast-to-coast trip, but on shorter trips... I think a high-speed train could win. Going through an airport is a hassle and I'm sure eliminating short (say under 2 hours) flights, would be a huge benefit for streamlining air traffic and reduce aiport congestion...


RE: Last mile?
By nafhan on 12/27/2012 3:55:15 PM , Rating: 2
Commuter trains are actually pretty awesome, IF some or all of the following are true:
1) Traffic is bad in your area
2) You don't like driving or would rather do something else during your commute
3) You've got a fairly lengthy commute
4) Getting to and from the train is convenient
5) You don't own a vehicle dedicated to your commute

Another thing I've noticed with commuter trains is that average speed is limited largely by the number of stops rather than the top speed of the train. Even on a train that has a top speed of 70 MPH, I was spending about as much time in the stations as I was at 70 MPH.

As negative as that sounds, I think commuter trains can be a great idea to relieve congestion in areas where it's just not practical to continue expanding the highways.


RE: Last mile?
By aliasfox on 12/28/2012 10:47:33 AM , Rating: 4
Why can't it replace airports?

Consider NYC > DC, or NYC > Boston, or even NYC > Chicago (south, north, and east, respectively).

For most people in residential or business NYC, getting to LaGuardia is an hour of subway and bussing. JFK is about an hour and a half, at least from Manhattan. Dulles, O'Hare, and Logan are roughly the same distance away from their respective cities as well (let's call it an hour). Midway and Reagan are closer into the cities, but that'll save maybe half an hour, at most.

So for both ends (travel to airport, check in, security, and disembarkation), we should build in ~3 hours, maybe two and a half if you're really good. Add in a 1hr (DC), 2hr (Boston), or 2.5hr (Chicago) flight time, and you're looking at total travel times of between 3.5 - 5.5hrs.

High speed rail on the same order as what France, Japan, and China have done would mean:
- NYC > DC in 1.5 hrs
- NYC > Boston in 2.5 hrs
- NYC > Chicago in 5-6 hrs

Train stations in each of these respective cities are all at the edge of business districts, and within 15 minutes of much of the residential communities, so even factoring in an extra hour of ground commute time, each of these commutes would still be highly competitive with air travel. Not to mention 'the last mile' within a city center (where there is lots of public transit or fairly inexpensive cabs) is significantly easier to deal with than 'the last mile' from an airport that's 20-50 miles away.

Lastly, why haven't people considered bringing cars onto trains? It's done on the Eurostar, why couldn't it be done on high speed rail in the US? If you could drive your car onto the train in DC then drive it off in Orlando, that would be a very appealing alternative to renting a car.


RE: Last mile?
By theapparition on 12/28/2012 11:47:39 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Lastly, why haven't people considered bringing cars onto trains?

They have, it's called Auto train. Amtrak has a few lines, like VA to Florida.

It's not high speed and the cost and time is more prohibitive over other methods, but works out well for some situations.


RE: Last mile?
By vxmqzz on 12/28/2012 4:32:27 PM , Rating: 2
if there is a high speed train between NYC and Chicago udder 5 hours, that would be great.


RE: Last mile?
By someguy123 on 12/29/2012 2:06:49 AM , Rating: 2
Considering the time it takes to just check in to the airport and sitting around waiting after entering too early, then waddling your way out, I'd say its a bit more convenient. They have multiple stops as well so I'd assume it'd make more sense to just take the train about 1/3rd of the way rather than flying for a few hundred miles.

Depending on territory their public transportation can be quite good, similar to the trains in NY or the bus system in california (well, comparatively good).


RE: Last mile?
By Paj on 1/2/2013 11:34:52 AM , Rating: 2
Ive caught the Eurostar between London and Europe several times. Its much more convenient, as security is far less onerous. Also, train stations are typically located in the middle of cities, making it much easier to get to your destination by car or public transport once you get there.

All in all, it ends up being a fair bit quicker, door to door, to get a train from London to Paris than a flight. The trains are much more comfortable than a flight too.


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