Saturday, October 04, 2014

We Try CRH High Speed Rail

Greetings from aboard train D5116, China Railways CRH service from Chengdu to Chongqing. CRH means that this is a high speed train, we're occasionally hitting speeds close to 200 km/h, that about 120 mph and cruising at around 150 km/h (around 100 mph). But it's a Chinese train and even though we're in first class it's full of screaming, whining children and adult passengers bellowing into their cell phones and at each other at the top of their lungs. There are 2 TV screens advising people to not take off their shoes and expose their smelly feet, don't make a mess and other loud announcements from cartoon Chinese police about manners and safety.

I thought that perhaps unlike an airplane I'd be able to look out the window and peacefully watch the Sichuan countryside roll on by. No such luck, my fellow passenger have drawn the window shades so I might as well be on an airplane or on a subway. At least the seat is comfortable and there's more leg and seat room than in airline economy class but without my own headphones the din of my fellow passengers would quickly wear me down. 

Our train left from the Chengdu North railway station, a madhouse and another of the many Chinese firedrills we've experienced on this trip. The Chinese have had security problems at railways stations in the recent past with teams of Muslims separatists from their rebellious far west getting loose stabbing and slashing and many have died. We both got wanded and our bags were x-rayed but neither of us are the people they're on the lookout for. I had a Swiss Army knife in my luggage which they didn't bother bringing to anyone's attention.  The men's room was incredibly unsanitary, I wanted to wash my hands but one man hoisted his little boy up to pee into one of the sinks and an old man was submerging and washing several big bunches of grapes in the other. There was no soap available anyway.

There are people in the US that say that the Chinese are ahead of us in high speed rail technology and that we need to build such railways and catch up. In my opinion that would be a very bad idea for the US.  But the financial cost of such a project in the US would break the bank. Oh wait, our bank is supposedly already broken and we already own an existing money losing passenger rail operation: AMTRAK.

When a train line is being built in China and your house or business is in the way the dispute is not settled after a long wait and a court date. The railroad tells you that their train is coming through and you have a certain amount of time to be gone and go live somewhere else. There might be a token financial settlement but ultimately your house will be bulldozed, you will be displaced and displaced rather quickly, the train is coming through and because it's a priority prestige project by the central government it waits for no one. They don't require high cost union labor or women and minority contractors nor do they take into account minority rights or social justice or any of the other niceties that Americans consider necessities.  The work goes on at all hours, often 24/7.  The way to get Chinese style high speed rail in America is to build it the Chinese way.  Would anyone in the US stand for that?

High speed trains can make sense in China because of the population density of the place, these trains are a Chinese solution to the unique Chinese problem of moving a massive and dense population.  China is roughly the size of the continental US but their 1.3 billion people are concentrated in a swath in the Chinese coastal east. It's as if most Americans lived on the eastern seaboard to perhaps as far west as Chicago and St Louis except there are probably 5 times as many Chinese in China as Americans in the US. China has over 100 cities with a population in excess of a million, the US has 5.  The Chinese have people to move, Americans should be glad for our places with wide open spaces.

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