Spotlight on Geopolitics

China’s Bullet Train Network

China’s loss of US export markets has determined Chinese officials to invest huge amounts of money into the construction of a 16,000-km fast train network, to be fully completed by 2020. During the first three quarters of 2009, investment in fixed assets like factories and railroads has amounted to more than 90 percent of China’s 8 percent growth for the year, using up 45 percent of the country’s GDP (source: IHT).

By 2012, China hopes to complete 1320 km of fast-train tracks linking Beijing and Shanghai, halving travel time between the two cities. Some US analysts like Steven Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, criticize the high proportion of the GDP allocated to developing the new rail infrastructure, considering the numbers involved as “ridiculous and unsustainable for any economy”. Mr Roach wrongly believes that the Chinese should favour raising living standards and help stimulate consumer demand instead of building bullet trains and the necessary infrastructure.

Built with the help of Canada’s Bombardier and Germany’s Siemens, China’s bullet trains are a high-tech alternative to freeway construction and have the potential to increase passenger traffic. According to the Chinese railway ministry, a two-track bullet train is able to transport 160 million people per year, compared to 80 million by a four-lane freeway: “the trains are the safest, fastest, most economic, most environmentally-friendly and most reliable mode of transport“.

When completed, the new fast train network will rival those in existence in the European Union or the shinkatsu of Japan. The US, which during the 1960’s have accommodated demands by General Motors to phase out many intercity rail links in favour of notoriously unsafe bus travel, is the odd country out when it comes to providing the best and most technologically advanced mass transportation solutions. Sic transit gloria mundi…

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