Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The China Syndrome and High-Speed Rail

First of all, I'm stunned to read in FORBES that the US ought to be spending more government dollars on infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail.  

FORBES, more than most publications, should be taking the position that if it doesn't happen in the free-enterprise private sector, it shouldn't be done.  Don't pro-business Republicans believe that government spending on social and public utilities is an income redistribution scheme and a form of socialism? 

I don't know who this guy is who wrote this piece, but I find it a strange attitude to be envying China and blaming our Democratic Administration for dragging their feet on infrastructure funding.

The other issue is the now classic China envy.  We want to have what they have, but our government, elected Democratically, doesn't have the authority that the Chinese oligarchy displays.  When they want to build something in China, they just go ahead and build it, like the Three Gorges Dam, which displaced over 4 million people in thousands of villages. 

Or high-speed rail, the major fatal accident of which is still under investigation (40 died), already causing executive heads to fall.  

By all means, let's envy China. Have we not noted most recently about Apple's manufacturing out-sourcing in China, at factories that are not much more than slavery-powered. After all, isn't Apple doing better than most other major US corporations?  Who cares how that success came about, or which foreigners were exploited to achieve that success. Isn't this how we intend to restore America's greatness in the future? With slave-built high-speed trains running in California?

And these are the people whose high-speed trains we want to buy?  Are we really that crazy?
Kenneth Rapoza, Contributor
Covering Brazil, Russia, India & China.
 2/14/2012 @ 2:41PM 
To Rebuild America, Call On China?

If Congress reauthorizes the highway bill, China construction companies want a piece of the action.

China’s Vice President Xi Jinping has at least one good sales pitch to offer Americans during his five day stay; to rebuild old infrastructure, count on us.

Yuan Ning, president for China Construction America (CCA) told China Daily on Tuesday that the perfect way for China and the U.S. to collaborate on much-needed infrastructure projects is through Public-Private Partnership, government funded projects operated by private partners. Chinese companies, he said, are standing by.

Robert Hormats, U.S. under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment, also told the paper that he agreed; China could invest through public-private partnerships in American infrastructure. “Chinese investment can be really helpful. We would love to have more of that and we will be pursuing that dialogue with the Chinese,” Hormats said after a business event in New York earlier this month.

It’s already happening, though very slowly.

CCA’s parent construction company plans to invest $2 billion in the next few years in U.S. infrastructure projects, mergers and acquisitions and residential development.

Joe Catapano, a project manager with CCA in the U.S., said the expertise and money that Chinese companies can provide is important to rebuild and renovate.  “The key issue is money. It doesn’t seem the United States government is willing to spend money. There isn’t a lot of financial support for a lot of infrastructure work that needs to be done,” said Catapano. “High-speed rail is definitely something we can learn from China.”

By comparison, China’s Ministry of Railways is going to spend $300 billion on transportation systems through 2020. The U.S. committed about $8 billion in similar projects. Still, Amtrak’s high speed Acela train here in the 21st Century loses power while “racing” through Connecticut from New York City to Boston because the tracks are not upgraded to take the train to its full 150 miles per hour potential.

In 2010, the New Jersey state government canceled the Hudson River rail project that would have built a new tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan. The state didn’t have the money.  So commuters are riding on a mix of old and newer trains that share a tunnel under the Hudson running on two tracks built as recently as 1910.

Meanwhile in Beijing, four new subway lines will start operating later this year, making the city’s total length of the subway lines exceed 279 miles of track, a lot of if brand spanking 21st Century newness.  

New York City has 842 miles of subway tracks. (Take THAT, China!) Most of it old and obnoxiously loud. (But, hey, it works. Love the 6.)

It’s not that the U.S. has forgotten it needs to fix roads and bridges, or that millions of people actually ride trains from the Mi-Atlantic to New England every day. Things like private-public partnerships take years, and a dozen committee meetings, to develop. In one party China, the government orders projects, pays for them, and there is no opposition.

Washington gets a C grade for trying, at least.  In the new 2013 budget, one of Obama’s proposals includes $50 billion for surface transportation, which would require the re-authorization of the highway act in an election year. A job creating bill like that would not bode well for Republicans trying to blame Obama for 8% unemployment.

Obama wants to modernize U.S. infrastructure, nevertheless, or risk being looked at as old world in a new world being modernized by Asians.

“Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower,” Obama told Congress last September in his speech promoting his American Job Creation Act. “And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?”

(Yes, Mr. President. It seems we are.)

This article is available online at: 

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