Bullet Trains for America?
The Obama administration has revived the dream of building high-speed rail lines to rival those of Japan and Europe, but the tracks are littered with political and financial obstacles.
China has embarked on a program that at first glance looks like a return to the past, but is viewed by government planners as vital to the country’s fast-growing economy. After two decades of highway construction, the focus has shifted to public transportation, with the equivalent of $1 trillion allocated to expand and improve the railway network. The most audacious element of China’s plan is to build 8,000 miles of high-speed railways by 2020. The first segment is already under construction between Beijing and Shanghai: 820 miles, comparable to the distance from New York to Chicago. When the line opens in 2012, trains on elevated rights of way will race at speeds as fast as 235 m.p.h. between the two cities, cutting the trip time from 12 hours to four and a half. Eventually, China wants to connect its rail network to a “supertrain” line to Europe that, carrying both passengers and export goods, would help secure the nation’s future as a global powerhouse.
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Mark Reutter, a former Woodrow Wilson Center fellow, wrote “The Lost Promise of the American Railroad,” which appeared in the Winter 1994 issue of the WQ, and can be found online at www.wilsoncenter.org/Train.pdf. He edited Railroad History for eight years and is the author of Making Steel: Sparrows Point and the Rise and Ruin of American Industrial Might (2005, rev. ed.).more from this author >>