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From the country that brought you the Erie Canal, the Transcontinental Railroad, the Moon Landing, the Mars Rover, and the latest in technological innovation: The Fiscal Cliff. Not.

China launched services on Wednesday on the world's longest high-speed rail route, the latest milestone in the country's rapid and -- sometimes troubled -- super-fast rail network.

The opening of the 2298-kilometre line between Beijing and Guangzhou means passengers will be whisked from the capital to the southern commercial hub in just eight hours, compared with the 22 hours previously.

I want one of these.

The distance from Beijing to Guangzhou -- about 1400 miles -- is almost the same distance as between Boston and Miami, where, if the Amtrak scheduling page is accurate, I can tortoise away in thirty-three hours (and 14 minutes) via our state-of-the-19-century train service.

What's next for Chinese high speed rail?

The railways ministry has announced plans to invest $400bn (£248bn) to complete a 10,000-mile network by 2020, with four main lines running east to west and four from north to south.
By 2020 the United States -- if we get any at all, benighted as we are -- will have managed 130 miles of high speed rail running from Fresno, CA to north of Bakersfield, CA. It's biggest redeeming feature may be that tourists from Japan, China, France and Spain will come to laugh at our "high speed train to nowhere", spending big bucks yen, yuan, francs and peseta to revitalize Bakersfield's tourism industry.

In contrast, the Obama Administration wants to invest $53 billion over the next six years, but even so only part of that is to be in true high speed rail, the rest will be to upgrade existing intercity rail service. That's a whopping $28.04/person/year, including the upgrade monies. Which Congress will likely refuse to authorize, anyway.

China has relied on technology transfers from foreign companies, including France's Alstom, Germany's Siemens and Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries, to develop its high-speed network.

But the country is now seeking to capitalise on what it has learned and has been building high-speed rail networks in countries such as Turkey and Venezuela.

Chinese laborers built much of the western half of the Transcontinental Railroad. I don't know whether it would be just and fitting or just ironic, but perchance Chinese engineers will end up designing much of America's high speed rail network -- circa 2040, almost 170 years after they overcame (literally and figuratively) the Sierra Nevadas and 20 years after they crisscrossed the entirety of the Chinese mainland.

Originally posted to jpmassar on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 06:20 PM PST.

Also republished by California politics, SFKossacks, and Progressive Policy Zone.

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