Wednesday, February 23, 2011

China Approves Engineering Research Center for High-speed Trains: Eat your heart out, America

Attention, Washington!  Read these articles. What the Chinese are doing here is a great idea, although we have to stop envying their every move and be more like what we were when Silicon Valley, the center of innovation, unfolded, powered by information technologies. Obama asks for R and D.  So do I.  Here's a good example. 

If we are actually, truly and really interested in innovation and creativity, we have to stop thinking about buying obsolete rail technologies off the shelves from Europe or Asia.  Aren't we the innovative country par excellence? So why are we buying stuff instead of inventing it and creating it?

Why are the Chinese building a rail R and D facility but we are not? Why aren't we leapfrogging the rail systems of other countries with break-through innovativeness in passenger transit?  Why are we suddenly fixated on passenger trains that we gave up on forty years ago, when those trains were running 80 and 90 mph? And now, nothing will satisfy us unless we get a gleaming new electric train for Christmas. 

Why is Obama talking about the future and at the same time insisting that we buy yesterday's rail technology, when we can't afford it and it won't actually do us any good?  

I suspect that if this new Chinese R and D capacity is permitted to do honest, rather than political work, they might discover that what they have been building is not the best solution for their problems at all, and that their obsession with 18,000 miles of HSR rail network will not be functional in tomorrow's population movement needs.  And their 40 million people mega-city problems will far outweigh their inter-city ones.

Anyhow, it looks like we envy and copy the wrong things, and ignore the good ones.  Is there no adult supervision for our national and state plan makers who don't know how to plan and think, instead of shooting first and asking questions later?
China Approves Engineering Research Center for High-speed Trains
2011-02-23 16:45:02     Xinhua      Web Editor: haodi

China's Ministry of Science and Technology has approved a subsidiary of CSR Corporation Limited (CSR), China's largest rail vehicle maker, to set up an engineering research center for high-speed trains.

The research center of CSR Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., Ltd (Sifang Locomotive), is the first of its kind in China, said a CSR statement Wednesday.

The research center will provide a platform for high-level research and development, experiments and engineering technology studies for China's high-speed trains, it said.

Sifang Locomotive is the maker of China's CRH-380A train, which set a world record speed of 486.1 kilometers per hour during a test run on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway in December last year.

Currently, more than 40 CRH-380A trains made by Sifang Locomotive have been put into operation in China, according to the statement.

CSR was co-founded by China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Group Corporation and Beijing Railway Industry Economic and Trade Company in December 2007.
And, here's the hollow response to our position above, written by the politically correct but badly misinformed tree-hugging authors about what we're doing wrong by not building all the HSR we can.  I'll respond to this article with interlinear comments:

Our High Speed Rail Plan Should Look More Like China's

I don't want to perpetuate the US vs. China who-will-be-the-economic-superpower narrative that's already rampant in our press enough these days, so let's frame this one from another, even simpler angle -- China is doing a bunch of really great stuff in clean tech that we should be doing too. [They are also burning more coal than the rest of the world combined.]  The nation's commitment to clean energy grabs most of the headlines, but China is also pioneering a massive high speed rail system that will help connect what will soon be some of the biggest cities in history. And no, we don't need to 'beat' China by building a similar rail system here in the states -- we just need to ensure our transportation system is efficient, sustainable, low carbon, and decoupled from oil dependence. And fast. [The authors are right: Since we are not in any way a "similar" country, we don't need to build a "similar rail system." But that is exactly what they are advocating in this article. ]

Today, Climate Progress is running a report on China's high speed rail investment, and as is usual with these things, that nation's audacity makes our own rail plans look woefully meager in comparison. [That is the ever popular, "Oh, why can't we be more like them" refrain. Their so-called "audacity" is the obsessive pursuit of global prestige.  Their HSR project is for show.  We don't need to envy that. Our current plans are far from "woefully meager." They are pretentious and not thought through.] After making the requisite comparison to Eisenhower's investment in a vast system of interstate highways across the nation, the report notes that:

Today, it is China that is leading the world in a key next-generation transportation technology: high-speed rail. China has already built 4,000 miles of rail featuring trains with average speeds of 120 miles per hour or greater, and the country plans to build an additional 10,000 miles of high-speed rail connecting all of China's major cities by 2020 ... We took the train from Beijing to Tianjin, reaching a top speed of 205 mph and covering the 73-mile journey--roughly the distance between New York and Philadelphia--in less than 30 minutes ...
China already boasts a rail network that, including both standard and high-speed rail, is more than 53,000 miles long. And China plans for that network to reach 68,000 in 2012 and 75,000 by 2020. All of China's provincial capitals have been connected by rail since the 1960s, and unlike the United States, rail is already a major mode of intercity passenger transportation.

All told, China is investing $300 billion between now and 2020 in its extensive rail plans. [ We don't actually know what they are investing since they don't tell anyone, or if they do, it's not true. Their $300 billion is a lot of money in a country where the average salary is $3,000. per year.] Right now, the United States has barely committed $10 billion, though rail advocates were aflutter after Obama announced a plan to give 80% of Americans access to high speed rail by 2035, and followed it up with an outline for a $53 billion, 6-year plan (which has yet to be authorized).
[Actually, we don't have the money the President wants to commit to HSR. And we don't have anywhere near enough to complete even one rail corridor.]

Meanwhile, many Tea Party Congressmen and conservative pundits are calling for rail plans to be scrapped -- and some are getting their way. [No, it's much more Republican mainstream than that.] High speed rail projects, which double as job-creating, economic stimulus programs, have been blocked in Ohio, Wisconsin, and now, Florida. The governors of these states claim that the investment in the infrastructure of tomorrow will be too costly down the line, and have booted the federal funding, which would have created thousands of jobs in each state.  [This rhetoric is far too ideologically Democratic politics to be taken seriously here.]

Needless to say, we should be exercising more vision than this -- with oil supplies dwindling, the airline industry will crumble, leaving air travel available only to the very rich. [Absolutely.  We "should be exercising more vision than this."  But no, the airline industry will not crumble.]  Our highways are congested across the nation, and many are in disrepair -- high speed rail is a sustainable way to help relieve the burden. [Here is the standard fallacy: since our current infrastructure is in disrepair, ignore it and build a fast train instead. That's mindless.] If you take the long view, high speed rail is perhaps the most viable long distance mass transportation option we've got on the table -- it's time to follow China's lead on this one.  [Yet once more. No, we must not follow the Chinese and their "lead." We do need to understand "long distance mass transportation" much better before we toss billions of dollars into a black hole for which we get nothing. That's what R&D is good for.]
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[Image by The Transport Politic]