Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

China stimulating economy with railroads

While we’re looking at diverting some of our massive bailout to save carmakers, China seems to be investing its economic package more wisely. From Business Week via The Overhead Wire:

China is now undertaking the world’s biggest railway expansion since the U.S. laid its transcontinental line in the 1860s. Beijing plans to spend $248 billion through 2020 on 75,000 miles of new track, for both freight and high-speed passenger lines. At that point, China’s high-speed passenger network will likely be the biggest on earth.

Despite these colossal ambitions, a nagging question remains: Can anyone make money from all this? Equipment suppliers, such as China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp. and multinationals like Siemens, certainly can. But it’s hard to profit from running a railroad on the mainland. Analysts at UBS (UBS) estimate China’s Ministry of Railways, which operates the railroads, has a net profit margin of less than one percent on revenues of about $35 billion. The Ministry maintains majority control over all rail lines and sets freight rates for farm products and ticket prices for migrant workers at artificially low levels. It wouldn’t comment for this article.

Does China need to be making a profit from its rail lines? Most industrialized countries subsidize their rail systems, I’m not sure why we’re holding ours here in the United States to a different standard. Hopefully the PRC hasn’t drifted so far into capitalism that it doesn’t recognize a valuable public service when it sees one.

And did I mention that the country is getting serious about intraurban rail transit as well? To the tune of 3,000kms (1,800 miles) and 88 billion dollars?

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Maglev-HSR conflicts and other China rail news

There’s lots of rail related news coming out of China this week.. not surprising considering the massive investments they’ve been putting into the technology in recent years.

The first item relates to the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev extension we talked about last week. According to the mayor of Hangzhou, the maglev line may face delays due to a conventional HSR route also being planned to connect the cities. He seems adamant that the project will go ahead.. but one would think that this sort of redundancy with such expensive proposals would put one of the lines on the chopping block eventually.

In a more dangerous example of bad coordination, an archaeological site containing ancient artifacts was badly damaged by construction of China’s newest HSR line, connecting Beijing and Shanghai.

The builders of the railway, which will allow trains to travel at 236 miles a hour, discovered shards of pottery and bones in the Yuhuatai district of Nanjing last October, during an initial site survey.

A subsequent survey found a 250,000 sq ft area filled with “countless relics dating back to the Shang (16th to 11th century BC) and Zhou (11th to second century BC) dynasties.” Nanjing has been the capital of China on several occasions in the past.

However, the company never replied and simply proceeded with the construction, destroying around 20,000 sq ft of the site in the process.

Municipal authorities have now halted the work and are likely to fine the building company up to 500,000 yuan for the damage. Mr Yang said the area had been “severely damaged”.

A spokesman at the Ministry of Railways said the mistake “should not have occurred”.

According to the BBC, this new HSR route will be the longest in the world and will go up in only four years.  In this country however, environmental studies and legal red tape can drag out construction time tables in the best of circumstances. Yet it’s examples like this archaeology hiccup that remind us why we undertake these studies in the first place.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , ,

Shanghai maglev to be extended

The world’s most prominent maglev train line, China’s 18 mile (30 km) route running from downtown Shanghai to the regional airport, is about to get a 125 mile (200 km) extension. When completed in around 2015, the line will connect Shanghai with neighboring Hangzhou, capital of the Zhejiang province. From the China Daily:

In accordance with an action plan of the provincial government regarding construction of key projects for 2008-2012 period, this affluent Chinese province is determined to complete the Zhejiang part of the maglev project in five years starting 2010 at a cost of 22 billion yuan ($3.14 billion).

In accordance with an early construction schedule, the maglev project would begin construction in 2007, get completion in 2008 and start trial operation in 2009 before a formal operation by 2010, when Shanghai plays host to the World Expo.

The action plan, which was distributed to government departments at lower levels inside Zhejiang over the weekend, also set a timetable for construction of another high-speed railway line, reserved for passenger transport only, between Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Impressive considering that ridership hasn’t exactly been impressive on the currently rather limited route. This seems to be the train that American politicians tend to gawk at and reference when talking about such projects on this side of the world, so a more comprehensive rail line couldn’t be a bad thing for the future of this technology over here.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , , ,

The train the Olympic athletes are taking

Earlier this month, China unveiled its first high-speed train line, running the 75 miles from Beijing to Tianjin, where events such as soccer matches will be held. One can hope that American athletes and visitors riding this train will be sufficiently impressed to start thinking about passenger rail in our own country. This is just the latest addition to the country’s large and expanding rail network. From the BBC:

The high-tech trains, which feature swivel seats and smart interiors, can accommodate about 600 people.

Construction began on the new line in July 2005. It has cost a total of 21.5bn yuan ($3.1bn, £1.55bn), Railway Minister Wang Zhiguo said.

A first class ticket will cost 69 yuan ($10), while a second-class ticket is 58 yuan.

It’s always a bit depressing to see China continue to dash ahead of the United States in terms of rail infrastructure, but it’s good to keep the picture in perspective. Large rail network constructions and improvements are almost always driven by a large civic project (The Olympics, the TGV, Britain’s nascent HSR plan). Plans like this just tend to go more smoothly in countries with unitary governments, like those of Europe. There are just fewer hoops for the government to jump through. Naturally, this is even easier in a country like China where citizen input and checks and balances are token at best. Of course I like trains. But I still like human rights more.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , ,

Jamaica to reopen passenger railway lines

Jamaica has one of the oldest rail systems in the Western Hemisphere, although the network had been in slow decline since World War II, culminating in the end of passenger rail services in 1992. On Friday, however, the government announced that it was partnering with China to revitalize the railways and build 18 new stations.

According to Henry, arrangements have already been made with the Chinese government to facilitate the construction of 18 new railway stations across the country. These will accommodate new tracks of 105-pound standard to enable greater speed and load-carrying capacity.

He said the reintroduction of the passenger and freight railway service is intended to significantly impact on rising fuel costs. The Government is focused on getting much of the island’s freight transportation done by rail and increasing mass transit to ease traffic gridlocks in urban centres.

While it’s easy for us to focus our concern about fuel prisis and automobile dependency on the first world, it’s also important for developing countries to have an alternative to car travel (though I realize Jamaica is more developed than most “developing” nations). They shouldn’t have to make the same transportation mistakes we did. Considering Jamaica’s small size, reinvigorating the national rail system seems like a good choice.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , ,

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