by Chikodi Chima on Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 6:24 PM
While China may hold $867 billion in U.S. government debt, they also own the road when it comes to futuristic transportation design. The latest example is a new Magnetic Levitation train being designed at Southwest Jiaotong University capable of travel up to 600 miles per hour. Researchers believe it could be built within 10 years.
Maglev trains are smaller than conventional trains and they hover over positively charged electric coils in a suspended trackbed that repel magnets under the body of the train. Pulses of electricity propel the train forward at much higher speeds than those that run on tracks because there is no
friction from wheels making contact with the steel rails.
To increase speeds, the Chinese prototype would be built within a vacuum tube underground to eliminate friction and wind resistance. Best of all, the system would only cost about $3 million more permile than conventional high speed rail, according to Shen Zhiyun, a member of the research team.
So why is China in transportation news so much?
While human rights advocates may call foul about labor practices, the more pressing concern for China’s government is to quickly respond the needs of an enormous, hungry and ambitious population of more than 1.3 billion. Within the past month it was announced that China is the world’s leading energy consumer, leaving the U.S. in a cloud of brackish petrol smoke. To compete with the nations of the developed world in terms of quality of life, the Chinese government has gone from a standing start to the pace-setter for bold, audacious and imaginative transportation solutions. Today the Chinese also announced that they will fund clean car research with an additional $15 billion over the next ten years.
It’s much easier to do infrastructure projects in China than pretty much anywhere else in the world. The Chinese Communist Party is flush with cash and city planners do not have to wait for community approval or consent when building disruptive megaprojects. When the orders come down for a new rail line, bridge or dam, anyone waiting around when work crews show up will be bulldozed out of the way. Nothing stands in the way of progress.
What does the future hold?
Within the next two years, China plans to double its high speed rail network, laying down an additional 3,700 miles of track–enough to stretch from Miami past Seattle. While Indian cities are turning to social media sites such as Facebook to deal with crushing traffic congestion, Chinese entrepreneurs are tackling gridlock in mindbending ways, such as a new bus that will be tall enough for cars to drive under it.
However, even the rosiest projections of the future should be greeted with a note of caution.
Austin Ramzy writing for Time Magazine about China’s rail boom points out that financing these projects assumes China’s economy doesn’t wobble again, as it did when the rest of the world contracted. “Massive infrastructural investments over the past year have helped China become the first major economy to pull out of the global economic crisis, but they could become a heavy burden if the recovery stumbles.” Ramzy also pointed out that in spite of increasingly glitzy modes of transportation, many Chinese are happy to jam themselves into slow, crowded trains because they cost less.
But even if cost-conscious travelers in China aren’t the growth engine some want them to be, all the experience in rail and transportation projects is sure to pay off elsewhere as China looks to capitalize on its expertise abroad. Ramzy writes:
State media report that Beijing wants to expand high-speed rail to more than a dozen Asian nations, eventually building a high-speed grid that would link China to Europe. Already, Chinese firms have begun to win key rail projects overseas. Last year, Saudi Arabia awarded the $1.8 billion first phase of a high-speed rail link between Mecca and Medina to a consortium that includes the state-owned China Railway Construction Corporation. Chinese companies are building high-speed-rail projects in Venezuela and Turkey, and the Ministry of Railways is even organizing a Chinese bid for California’s proposed $45 billion project to build a high-speed-rail network linking the southern and northern parts of the state.
While the purpose of the $8 billion spent on America’s future network of high speed rail trains is supposed to stimulate our economy, with all supplies and equipment produced domestically, no one here has any experience building high speed rail, unlike China, which can’t seem to get enough.