An Orient Express For The 21st Century?
According to the Beijing Times, Chinese engineers are proposing to build a high speed rail link from China to the United States. The route would start in Beijing and travel through Russia to a tunnel under the Bering Strait, then continue across Alaska and Canada to the West Coast. Travelling at speeds up to 300 mph, this new Orient Express would whisk passengers in climate controlled comfort from one continent to the next in about 2 days time.
Why would someone choose to take the train when they can fly in half the time? That’s an excellent question. My guess is the trip would be far more comfortable for passengers, who would be free to move about, eat real meals and sleep in actual beds instead of being squashed into an aluminum tube snacking on pretzels for hours on end.
Honestly, flying today has become something most people dread – something that must be endured rather than enjoyed. Crowded airports and long lay overs take a lot of the fun out of air travel. The comfort and convenience of train travel would likely appeal to many who would gladly arrive fresh and rested instead of sleep deprived and frazzled.
China has acquired a lot of expertise at building large infrastructure projects at home as the Chinese economy has exploded over the past 20 years. Lately, Chinese companies like China Railway Construction Corporation and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSEC) have been exporting their prowess to the Middle East and Africa, often outbidding US and European contractors for the largest contracts.
China certainly has the engineering prowess to design and complete a transcontinental railroad. Its engineers say they have already had exploratory talks with all the governments along the proposed route. But their knowledge and skill may not be enough to conquer the political cross currents in the US, where even a seemingly simple idea like a high speed rail link from Los Angeles to San Francisco threatens to be derailed by partisan bickering.
So don’t expect to board the train for Beijing at your local Amtrak station any time soon.