A dose of reality for true believers: China is braking its high-speed rail

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is enthralled by China’s growing high-speed rail system, but China is becoming less enthralled.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal:

BEIJING–China will begin forcing its growing fleet of high-speed trains to operate at slower speeds, the country’s railways chief said in an interview with state-run media, in the latest sign of trouble for the country’s most vaunted transportation project.

This is a big deal in China, and it should be watched by high-speed rail ideologues in America, where high-speed rail has become a prohibitively expensive and favorite project of President Barack Obama and many starry-eyed greens.

Some of the problems that China is experiencing:


Experts have questioned the safety of China’s high-speed railways. An executive at a non-Chinese high-speed train manufacturer said running trains above speeds of 330 kilometers an hour poses safety concerns and higher costs. At that speed threshold, wheels slip so much that you need bigger motors and significantly more electricity to operate. There is also so much wear on the tracks that costs for daily inspections, maintenance and repairs go up sharply. That’s why in Europe, Japan and Korea no operators run trains above 320 kilometers (200 mph) an hour, the executive said, adding that above 330-350 kilometers an hour it is safer and possibly cheaper to float the trains magnetically.


Improving energy efficiency in high-speed trains is one reason for the change, Mr. Sheng said. Trains operating at 350 kilometers an hour require twice as much energy as those operating at 200 kilometers an hour, he said.


Tickets for high-speed trains can be twice as expensive as the highest-class tickets on regular-speed trains. A high-speed rail ticket between eastern China’s Wuhan and Guangzhou, for example, costs 469 yuan, or about $70. That is prohibitively expensive for many Chinese, and has resulted in at least some trains operating almost empty, industry experts say.

So, let’s see, high-speed rail is expensive not just for taxpayers but also prohibitively so for many passengers. It is a large consumer of energy. It poses safety risks. 

Remind me again why high speed rail is so great. 


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  • Of course, as Daley figures it, it will take only 10 minutes at 200 km/hour to get to O'Hare. Of course, one has to add into this all the calculus needed to figure out the effect of acceleration and deceleration rates on that calculation.

    Also, from what was said, high speed rail in the Midwest would only get to about 200 kph, and no more than 125 in urbanized areas.

    It would be fun to see some train ram into a steelhauler truck at 350 kph, though.

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