China builds a huge high-speed rail network. Meanwhile, the US is a laughingstock when it comes to rail, relying mostly on antiquated trains that can\'t even approach 100mph. What\'s wrong with this picture?
1st January, 2012 @ 5:59 p.m. (California Time)
Why should we? Where\'s the market? Other than political payoffs, what\'s the cost/benefit ratio of this or any other rail project? The Anglo/French SST Concorde never came close to paying for itself. It was strictly a national pride transport. Even now with well established European system of passenger rail, taxes pay the way. According to CNN Money, Germany alone required $11.6Bn Annually in tax subsidies for the period 1996-2006. This makes it a public service at the tax payer\'s expense.
OTOH, I can drive my car anywhere I want to at my expense and schedule. And yes, I pay for the roads too -- that\'s a public service provided by the government via taxes on the road users, not just the general public.
1st January, 2012 @ 7:59 p.m. (California Time)
@Holly McBeal ... Germany\'s annual tax subsidy for the road systems is about $28B US Dollars. Far more than the rail system. Still, talking about the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure meaningless when the cost of fuel, whether you pay it in taxes or at the pump, is vastly greater. In our case, the problem is much worse because of how many tax dollars get spent on subsidizing oil and gas production.
Per passenger-mile, cars burn vastly more fuel than trains which means that the tax cost of gasoline subsides for car driving is vastly greater as well. The cost of building and maintaining rail infrastructure is a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost (tax/retail-at-pump) cost of fuel.
1st January, 2012 @ 10:01 p.m. (California Time)
@Mark Cleaner -- Subsidies are the government paying someone with tax monies to produce a product. Roads built and maintained with taxes collected for that purpose are not subsidies, they\'re user fees. When the government tries to encourage specific economic activity by reducing the tax rate for that activity, that is not a subsidy. The government is not purchasing that product. Oil (or any other) companies pay their share of corporate taxes according the latest whims of the latest tax code as passed by Congress. All taxes are regressive, so saying someone is being favored because they\'re less heavily taxed is a problem with the rule makers, not those favored.
If the only concern is fuel efficiency per passenger or ton-mlle, then we need a national canal system hauling people about with all the fuel savings associated with water transport. If you are concerned about the costs of personal liberty to travel when, where and how you want, it comes back to the cost/benefit ratio of building and using a high speed rail system. So -- who are the customers?
2nd January, 2012 @ 1:54 a.m. (California Time)
@Holly McBeal - I\'m glad your views didn\'t hold sway back when the first American Transcontinental railroad (which was authorized by Congress and heavily supported by government bonds and land grants) was built. Or for that matter the Interstate Highway System, which began planning in the \'30s. I mean, where were the customers? They came once there were roads to ride on (which is why auto makers pushed for them.) Back then it was understood that one had to invest in infrastructure to build and sustain a great country. China grasps this, but sadly America is no longer capable of long-range thinking.
2nd January, 2012 @ 7:52 a.m. (California Time)
@holly mcbeal, would you rather drive on the autobahn than the slower American interstate system? If so, why not ride on a train that goes 300 mph rather than a standard train that goes 60? That\'s a five to one ratio. That\'s a horse\'s 15 mph compared to a car\'s 75mph. I would say it it well worth it, not even considering china is even bigger than the US in city size, distance between cities, and city population. Its good to get them out of their gas guzzlers and into a train powered by the big hydroelectric dam. I\'m not even going to touch that comment about canals. There is no way in heck that a boat with all of it\'s contact with the water is more efficient than a train contacting a few inches of a greased-up steel track. Saying that digging canals everywhere, large enough for barges, is cheaper than laying steel tracks is just plain silly. Darn it, I touched it.
2nd January, 2012 @ 9:51 a.m. (California Time)
The whole question of efficiency is moot. Americans don\'t want to travel by rail even if it is high speed rail.
2nd January, 2012 @ 12:48 p.m. (California Time)
Some good arguments here.
I am not against trains, I am against HOW our US government subsidies them.
Roads are subsidized. The Fed and state spend money for construction companies to build and maintain them. It is a \"lowest bidder process\" overseen by the state and fed departments of transportation. Everyone is allowed to use the road for commerce and personal business.
Trains are subsidized. Do they give money for tracks and stations to be built and maintained and have the commerce on those tracks be open to competition? No.
They write a very large check to Amtrak every year. And it is treated like a budget. And Amtrak always fights for more money. And when the unions demand more money, they give it to them.
Amtrak has no incentive to keep cost down. Or provide better service. Or investigate technology that may cheapen its operation. They are waiting on the check.
With GPS and computers, there should be no reason a company should not be able to come in and start running lines more efficiently than Amtrak. But that is not the way the game is set up......
As for high speed rail, I have heard they are trying in California, but people complained (noise) so they have backed off on it and are putting the money to use out in the middle of nowhere.... Our tax dollars at work....
2nd January, 2012 @ 2:54 p.m. (California Time)
This is interesting.
I know the Acela is the only \"high speed\" rail in the US at this point.
What I did not know is that it operates AT A PROFIT.
Which for a government sponsored program astounds me.....
Take a look:
2nd January, 2012 @ 3:03 p.m. (California Time)
Derailing at 500+ Kmh............ Ooooooooooooooooo that is gunna hurt.
2nd January, 2012 @ 8:08 p.m. (California Time)
China is having huge debt problems and still finds ways to build such toys. China Rail is drowned in a debt of more than $350B.
People cursing US Gov, think again. Your Gov is actually more wise than the Chinese. Everybody can afford a Rolls Royce car if they are able to get a loan, isn\'t it?
2nd January, 2012 @ 11:08 p.m. (California Time)
Wrong wrong wrong, everyone, because of the massive population, both systems will rapidly saturate. We\'ve heard of the Global Traffic Congestion problem. Both the roads and the railways will saturate. China will have to use all its got. The USA promotes cars as it simply retails petrol to the car drivers, earning vast sums in the process. Petrol sells 20 times the purchase price of crude. Taxes additional. This is actually the base of the Western economy.
3rd January, 2012 @ 3:18 a.m. (California Time)
Why invest in rail. Air travel will become dirt cheap in the future. An asteroid hit will wipe out surface transport.
3rd January, 2012 @ 8:34 a.m. (California Time)
No way would I ride that thing or would I live anywhere near (say about a mile or so from it\'s tracks) because of this thing comes off it\'s track @ 311mph it will reach out and touch ya ! could you just imagine.. Train=tons, 300+mph = Giant lawn mower. yes it would be something to see the amount of destruction this would cause ? how would it handle hitting 10 deer or cows or a tree on the tracks ??
3rd January, 2012 @ 8:50 a.m. (California Time)
The Acela operates on one of the very few routes in America that high speed rail is a practical equivalent to air transport and it wouldn\'t have near the ridership except for the unconstitutional, dangerous, intrusive, and massively ineffective \"security\" check at the airports.
3rd January, 2012 @ 6:16 p.m. (California Time)
I would avoid a gov run business at all costs. I don\'t want to encourage them. I would rather the gov take my money and spend it on themselves than take a business off the market. We only think the road system must be done by gov because that\'s all we know.
There isn\'t anything gov does that the market can\'t do better and cheaper.
3rd January, 2012 @ 8:39 p.m. (California Time)
@Prashanth Budihal: the US is the world\'s biggest debtor, and guess who it owes a good chunk of it\'s debt to? that\'s right- china. I\'d suggest you reconsider your confidence in the US government\'s sense of economics. The US has no money and no decent train infrastructure, which is an important aspect in the oil control/dependence in the middle east and the rest of the world.
Like Ethan Brush wrote, China is a huge country and distances between settlements are sometimes arduous to grasp, making high speed trains a necessity in order to ameliorate economic and social prosperity.
4th January, 2012 @ 3:39 a.m. (California Time)
Company debt in China is meaningless- everything is actually owned by the Chinese Government- there are no shareholder registers. Its a complicated quasicapitalist system.
4th January, 2012 @ 7:11 a.m. (California Time)
re; Ender Wigin
If the distance between settlements are arduous to grasp, air transport is the way to go. Safer too.
4th January, 2012 @ 7:23 a.m. (California Time)
Firstly as some readers have accurately pointed out all governments sponser thier citizens to drive on the road systems that we all take for granted. Few worldwide are pay as you go, we the taxpayer stump up for them along with all the \"accotramonts\" like traffic control and bridges.
Road transport is relatively inefficient even if convenient.
Trains are efficient if well patronised but difficult to make profitable, but then how many national road systems make a profit? Buggerall.
Lastly trains are a very relaxing form of transport.
5th January, 2012 @ 11:13 p.m. (California Time)
lol you Americans make me smile and cringe at the same time.
So tied up in your rhetoric its not funny. Even to your own detriment in the long term.
What happens when oil hits $5 a liter? I bet only a hand full of you will own cars or fly in planes. an economy which cannot connect its major economic hubs with products and services is dead in the water.
You all think taxes are making you poor. No, it is your employers exploiting you for peanuts.
You all think your health sector is far too expensive; this is because you have privatized it and removed regulation.
Your infrastructure is crumbling. This is because a large chunk is privately owned (you dont make a profit by spending money on maintenance) and the publicly owned parts are severely underfunded due to poor tax collection and in adequate tax collection.
7th January, 2012 @ 4:50 p.m. (California Time)
In the USA we spend a trillion dollars a year to subsidize the use of automobiles and trucks and have the most expensive and least efficient transport system on the face of the planet. How can anyone be so stupid as to think that the $0.50 a gallon in fuel taxes actually covers the cost for building and maintaining all the roads and bridges in the USA?
In China or in Europe I can travel 200 miles at 200mph on a train at a cost of $24 (China) to $42. In the USA I can travel by train at 30mph (San Francisco to Los Angeles) and pay $57. For some reason most people will fly and pay $200 and take 4 hours or drive and pay $132 (at $0.55 per mile) take 8 hours instead of the 12 hour slow train ride.
We subsidize cars by building streets that waste 1/3 or 1/2 of their capacity to allow for parking cars and another 20% of cities is used for parking lots, garages, and roadways and these removes this land from use for housing, office, parks, or any other productive use which would also often generate tax revenues.
We subsidize cars as everyone is carrying the health and environmental costs of air pollution and global climate change. Asthma caused by motor vehicle particulates has been calculated at $18 billion a year. Think about the pollution generated by 2000 cars motoring down the road as compared to a single electric train traveling the same route with 2000 passengers on board.
The difference with China and Europe is that the governments run the countries instead of big corporations. Corporations are designed to maximize profits and that means we have the most expensive and least efficient transportation system and health care system in the world. We spend twice as much to get half as much and yet the majority of voters think that we are the envy of the world. They need to turn off Fox News and get out more.
10th January, 2012 @ 8:55 a.m. (California Time)
Good move by China's rail system in using carbon fiber reinforced plastics for this super fast vehicle. The lightweight but strong material allows the train to move faster, as mentioned in this post, but also can boost train efficiency while keeping passengers safe. Great write-up, Eric Mack - thanks for sharing!
For more on CFRP in vehicles, visit: http://www.facebook.com/plasticcar and www.plastics-car.com
Rob Krebs, Market Innovations, American Chemistry Council
22nd February, 2012 @ 11:03 a.m. (California Time)