China to link California, world by high speed rail

Californians will find themselves riding down rails at 215 miles an hour in the near future.  The California High-Speed Rail Authority has created a $43 billion dollar plan to link San Francisco to San Diego by high-speed rail.  Helping to get this plan on track is the $2.24 billion dollars allocated to the project in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  A route has been set and a bidding war is currently under way for who will lay the track.  A recent New York Times article places the Chinese government as the front runner in who will provide the bulk of the technology.  This assessment is understandable considering the fact that China is so experienced in building high speed rail lines both domestically and internationally: with 4,000 miles of high-speed rail built domestically and projects currently underway in several foreign countries.

Current map of high-speed rail in China

I am excited about the idea of high-speed rail in the United States.  No matter where the technology originates, I think it is a step in the right direction for our national infrastructure to have more energy for transportation being electricity rather than petroleum. What is even more exciting is the ambitious proposal by the Chinese government to create vast high-speed rail network spanning Europe and Asia.  If all works according to plan it will be possible to travel from Beijing to London in two days once the track is laid!

Potential high-speed eurasian rail lines

High speed rail will change the way we travel.  I hope that it will change the way we use energy to travel, in particular.  In the United States as of 2008 95% of our transportation energy comes from petroleum.  If high-speed rail catches on as a popular way to make long trips and transport goods this number could shift, being out-weighed by the increased use of renewable energy and nuclear power (in the best case scenario) for transportation.  High-trains use electric motors which would ultimately increase the demand for electricity in California – an increase which will not likely be met with new Coal power plants in the clean air loving Sunshine State.  As far as the powering the tracks planned to stretch from London to Beijing, here’s to hoping that the current rate of China’s investment in renewable energy ($34.6 billion in 2009) continues to satisfy the increase in demand that these lines will create.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “China to link California, world by high speed rail

  1. rhinoman25

    The building of the high speed rail is a an ambitious and costly project. It’s main detractors doubt that the $43 billion dollar plan is realistic. The “Reason Foundation”, a libertarian think tank performed their own due diligence analysis and concluded $65 -81 million as a more realistic target. This along with “right of way” complications between San Jose and Gilroy, lack of service in the central valley, and unclear demand have fueled public resentment. However, this rail project is one of 13 that have received ARRA money around the country. Considering the transportation and pollution issues that plague the state of California, and the backing from the federal government, I think the risks involved pale in comparison to the potential improvements of the quality of life in California.

  2. And of course for Texas there’s the T-bone corridor [video](which will probably never get built). Estimated at $20-50 million/mile for a total of ~$20 billion. That’s less than the California plan and there’s less ‘right of way’ land issues next to Texas highways.

  3. joshins

    I agree that new high-speed rail projects could have significant implications on the mix of fuel consumption in the U.S., and I would further assert that the potential goes beyond just changing the way we travel; consider that one of the biggest challenges we face in changing our consumption patterns (namely toward renewable forms of energy generation) is transmission, and more specifically, where the wind blows (west texas) and sun shines (arizona desert) is generally far from the major metropolitan centers where the power is consumed. High speed rail could clearly increase average commutes and have the effect of spreading population growth away from major metropolitan centers. This, in turn, would fit with current models that propose building smaller, decentralized power generation facilities. As the US population grows, transmission would become less of an issue if power could be supplied closer to where it is consumed.

    Further, perhaps there could be synergies between laying rail for high speed trains and building new high-capacity long-haul transmission lines. Imagine a high speed train from Houston to Los Angeles, which runs past wind farms in west texas and carries power back and forth along the same infrastructure. No doubt the cost of such projects would be huge, but my guess is that it wouldn’t take long to recover thoses costs, not to mention the jobs that would be created through building that infrastructure in the process.

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