Tuesday, May 13, 2014

11 years ago the Central government in China invested 200 billion US dollars in the city of Chongqing to modernize the city and give it infrastructure and a modern face that would entice young people who had been leaving for the Eastern coastal cities to stay.
The investment would be about 240 billion dollars in today's dollars. The plan succeeded. Chongqing once the capitol of Sichuan Province is now its own Provincial level municipality (like Beijing and Shanghai) with a population in excess of 35 million people, the biggest city in China and arguable the world.

Keep those figures in mind as you read the following story about what will seem like a fantasy:


China wants to build underwater high-speed rail to U.S.
China high-speed train
China already has an extensive -- and expanding -- network of high-speed rail -- including the longest high-speed rail line in the world -- within its borders. But a new plan could extend Chinese high-speed rail as far as the United States.
In an interview with the Beijing Times, Wang Meng-shu, a railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that China is "considering" a high-speed rail plan that would run an estimated 13,000 kilometers -- about 8,000 miles -- (the Trans-Siberian Railway is around 9,000 km or roughly 5,500 miles) from northeastern China to Russia and then cross the Bering Strait through an undersea tunnel to reach Alaska.
The tunnel alone would be an impressive engineering feat. Around 200 km (125 miles) of undersea tunnel would be needed. That's about four-times longer than the current world's longest rail tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel in Japan.
Using high-speed trains that could reach speeds of 350 km/hour, the train would run from beginning to end in roughly two days, according to Meng-shu.
The China-Russia-U.S. line is one of four major high-speed rail projects Meng-shu discussed with the Beijing Times. Among them a Eurasian rail line connecting China to London and a Pan-Asian rail line starting in Kunming and connecting Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Of course, there are plenty of potential issues that all the lines will run into:
Intergovernmental cooperation
Engineering challenges
And the costs of the China-Russia-U.S. line alone might be enough to be skeptical that this project will ever become reality. When Quartz extrapolated the costs of similar projects to estimate the price tag of the China-Russia-U.S. line, it found that the final costs could exceed $200 billion. The tunnel alone could cost more than $50 billion. According to Quartz, this one line would be more than half of China's current ($300 billion) high-speed rail budget.

But obvious challenges haven't stopped China from continuing to pursue ambitious high-speed rail projects in the past. In fact, the China-Russia-U.S. line might not even be the most unbelievable high-speed rail news out of China recently. Researchers at China's Southwest Jiaotong University unveiled a super-maglev prototype using a vacuum tube that could one day allow high-speed train to reach 1,800 miles per hour. Speaking of expensive...

While it is not a question of holding our breaths for this project to be launched soon, what appears to be a daunting cost is not as daunting as it might seem. To those who take a commercial view and ask how such a system could ever pay for itself it is worth contemplating the nearly 20,000 mile high speed rail network China has built in less than a decade (and it continues to grow).

Cities and towns along the system are undergoing economic and social development that would have taken decades instead of the few years since they became interconnected.

When first built the high speed rail network was criticized as an elitist transportation system unaffordable to ordinary citizens.

The criticism fell to the fact that migrant workers, among the lowest paid workers in China started using the new system to travel and even commute to their jobs, along with business travelers, families, students; in short everyone. Anyone who uses the system knows that these trains that often run on as little 10 minutes headway are often full or at high capacity traffic all day.

The contrast is to ask why there is an ongoing battle in California to built a single line that will link Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The battle for high speed rail in the Northeast corridor of the US has been well documented and remains at a crawl.

Then there is the construction of the extension of a subway line on 2nd avenue in New York. Planning for this 8 mile extension began in 1929. The first phase, approximately 2 miles long is now under construction with completion expected in December 2016.

If the argument is that metro systems are a more difficult challenge than intercity high speed rail (a reasonable issue), China again is worth considering. The city of Shenzen alone (across the border from Hong Kong) has built 8 subway lines in the last 11 years and continues to expand the system.

Comparing apples and oranges? Really?

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