High Speed Rail notsofast

Published on May 2nd, 2011 | by Andrew Meggison

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China Slows Trains on Safety Concerns


China has slowed down their bullet trains amid safety concerns and rising costs.

Chinese bullet trains will be slowed from 220mph to 190mph as of July 1st. The reduced speed will allow for safer travel as well as a possibility of greater variation in ticket prices for travelers. Cheaper tickets will be issued for trains running at speeds from 125mph – 155mph and run on existing trucking rails rather than on main high speed commuter rails.

With 56,000 miles of passenger rail and nearly 3 million employees, China is home to the world’s largest train network. The Chinese train system is not just for transportation between China’s spread out communities, the immense rail system also serves a symbol of China’s technological expertise and growing wealth. China is building more tracks and faster trains than any other country in the world.

While held in extreme prestige, the Chinese rail system does have its critics. Chinese engineers have said that the operation of such high speed bullet trains is risky and there are fears that the fast and continuing expansion of the railroads is more due to local Chinese politics rather than an actual social need for high speed rail transportation. The high price of train tickets and the multibillion dollar price tag for rail expansion projects has also raised eyebrows in a country where millions of families live in poverty.

During the Lunar New Year holiday many Chinese working class travelers complained they could not afford high speed train tickets and that tickets for regular trains were sold out. A migrant worker became an internet sensation when he stripped to his underwear to protest outside a train ticket office after he waited 14 hours in line but could not get train tickets for himself and his family. China did overtake Japan last year as the world’s second largest economy after the United States. However, with 1.3 billion people, China barely places in the top 100 on the World Bank’s list of countries by average income per person.

The Chinese national audit office reported in March that $28 million had been embezzled from a major Chinese rail expansion project and that some bullet train lines are not operating at optimal speed capacities. A 72 mile high speed line linking Beijing with Tianjin cost $3.3 billion to build; yet the line is so short for the high speed train that the train hits its 220 mph cruising speed for only a few minutes before it slows for arrival at the train station.

With all their many faults, the Chinese bullet trains are a very successful form of clean energy transportation. The Chinese government hopes that successful technological leaps made in their rail system can be a jumping off point for China to transform into a worldwide creator of technology, rather than China just being an inexpensive place to manufacture goods.

Current Chinese government plans call for spending $106 billion on railroad building this year alone. Chinese officials say the high speed rail network will grow to 8,000 miles of track by the end of this year and 10,000 miles of track by the year 2020. That is in addition the already 56,000 miles of passenger rail, containing both high speed rail and regular rail, already in place. China also aims to have the fastest trains in the world, with speeds up to 1,000 KPH (620 MPH).

China’s bullet trains are based on German, French, and Japanese technology and recently a senior railway official said Chinese manufacturers might compete for contracts to build a high speed rail lines in California. News of a high speed rail system being established in California is nothing new and has been talked about for over 30 years. However, many American’s identify passenger rail with cultural values that they fear. Passenger rail is physically restrictive, requires a form of central administration telling the traveler when they will depart and arrive at their destination, and for better or worse it is how the Europeans and Chinese travel.

In a nation that is demanding to “take their country back”, America is actually at risk of falling behind other developed nations in economic output, quality of life, and now mobility. Less than a decade ago China was still operating steam locomotives and now by 2014 China will have twice as many miles of high speed, clean running,  rail as the rest of the world combined.

Source: Yahoo News

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.




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About the Author

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor's Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master's Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison



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  • http://Web richard40

    Looks like what china is finding out is they should expand investment in regular speed rail first, the kind that numerous commuters are willing to actually buy tickets for, than messing with high speed rail.

    In the US, high speed is even more of a waste, since most US citizens dont even use regular rail much. For those interested in rail, and its energy savings, a far better approach would be to upgrade our freight rail system, which IS heavily used, and necessary.

    • http://www.sublimeburnout.com Christopher DeMorro

      @richard40

      Obviously, you don’t live in New England, where riding the train to work is a way of life for many people.

      I would agree with you that certain aspects of the American HSR plan are out of wack, like pouring billions into a California line that won’t be operational until the rest of the tracks are built. But there is a very strong case for building a modern HSR network between Washington D.C., New York, and Boston. Also, +1 for upgrading the freight rail system too. Right now though many of these trains share the same tracks; therefore to update one, means updating the other.

      • http://Web memomachine

        Hmmm.

        “New England”? I grew up in NH and the only train I ever rode on was Amtrak … in Vermont. And I believe Amtrak closed that down. Fact is that the infrastructure requirements of train systems inflates the costs so dramatically that airplanes are effectively cheaper and more flexible for long distance travel while buses are more effective for short distances.

      • http://Web JorgXMcKie

        There is a need for 220MPH trains in New England for people to go to work? You’re right. I haven’t spent enough time in New England to notice that.

        I have spent a great deal of time in both the Detroit and Chicago areas, and I have an extremely hard time believing that there is much need/use for a 220MPH train except a few traveling between them, and I have no belief whatsoever that such a system could be built between them on time or anywhere near on budget.

        • http://www.sublimeburnout.com Christopher DeMorro

          @Jorg

          Me, personally? I don’t think we need 220 mph trains in the New England corridor. I’d settle for 100 mph. Most of these trains can only average 70 mph on a rail system that was largely laid and built almost a century ago. They are in desperate need of upgrading. And while we’re at it, why not make a dedicated high speed line between Boston and Washington D.C.? A lot of people travel this route, and the Acela Express (which has to slow down on these archaic tracks) has very impressive ridership numbers.

          I don’t agree with handing out money to start new projects when there is so much older infrastructure in dire need of upgrade. High speed rail is not a foolish endeavor, if done right. China has the right idea, investing in infrastructure for the 21st century. But they are obviously going about it in the wrong way.

          Finally, the whole Chicago area is one of the most congested in the country. Are you suggesting it is better to let people sit in traffic than to give them an alternative that is fast AND takes cars off the road?

          • http://Web sagi

            @Christopher

            Chicago already has a very extensive network of passenger rail options, with 8 heavy rail and 12 regional rail lines and hundreds of stations, as a quick Google search will easily demonstrate.

  • http://Web richard40

    This talk about how we cant fall behind in this hgh speed rail technology reminds me of the supersonic transport. It is some companies looking for gov pork, because they cant actually compete in the real marketplace. We should try and lead on technologies that actually have a demand, but technology purely for prestige sake is a waste.

    • http://Web John

      Well said.

      Anyone ever see the Simpsons episode where they are talked into buying a monorail?

      Ya wanna know why we don’t have tons of high speed rail? Because nobody wants to a train!

      The only consumers you’ll see shilling for it are people who, for whatever reason, DO use rail. But here’s the catch: They want it, they just won’t *pay* for it. They want YOU to pay for it.

  • http://Web Jerry

    Some of that Reardon steel should resolve the safety issues (heh).
    Seriously, richard40 is right about freight over pax rail in the US. Comparing which country is ‘first’ in HS rail makes a nice soundbite for politicians but mis-allocation of taxpayer money in whatever form always makes a country and its people poorer in the end.
    I do find it interesting to see corporate cronyism fleecing the Chinese taxpayers as much as in the US.

  • http://Web Rich

    Ummm.. what about the article in the Washington Post, by Charles Lane, from April 22nd? “China’s Train Wreck” The Chinese high-speed rail ministry has run up $271 Billion in debt. The the Beijing-Tianjin line is loosing $100 Million a year. Chinese debt service for the ‘overrun’ will be $28 Billion a year

  • http://Web RS

    Interesting.

    China, the poster child for high speed rail driven at the behest of central government, is failing with low ridership, political corruption, and hundreds of billions of uncovered costs.

    And that is called a “clean” success. Heaven help us from a non- very successful fiasco.

    So the call from the greenies, let’s not fall behind and get our own massive failure.

    High speed passenger rail is not a solution. It requires something that few city pairs in the US have, cities that don’t need cars at both ends.

  • http://Web Arlington Red

    This quote is just silly…

    “…many American’s identify passenger rail with cultural values that they fear. Passenger rail is physically restrictive, requires a form of central administration telling the traveler when they will depart and arrive at their destination…”

    That same description could be used for airplane travel, something that Americans seem to have no problems with.

    • http://Web sagi

      @Arlington Red

      Lots of airport options, lots of airlines who compete for our business, and if that isn’t enough, the option of charters or private aircraft … none of which exist with passenger rail.

  • http://Web John

    >>> America is actually at risk of falling behind other developed nations in economic output, quality of life, and now mobility

    That’s right, America. We can cure all that ails us with high-speed rail. Yeah, that’s why we can’t keep up. It’s our train network. lol

    You greens are so silly.

  • http://Web richard

    Wow, the conclusion is at complete odds with the article. The article basically details how a lot of the spending on high speed rail is wasteful, based on political motives, and unnecessary.

    But then the conclusion is we should emulate the Chinese “so we don’t fall behind”.

  • http://Web eazylogin

    hina’s bullet trains are based on German, French, and Japanese technology and recently a senior railway official said Chinese manufacturers might compete for contracts to build a high speed rail lines in California. News of a high speed rail system being established in California is nothing new and has been talked about for over 30 years. However, many American’s identify passenger rail with cultural values that they fear. Passenger rail is physically restrictive, requires a form of central administration telling the traveler when they will depart and arrive at their destination, and for better or worse it is how the Europeans and Chinese travel.”

    This paragraph is excellent and perfectly captures the situation

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