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China Rail Fail: 42% Spending Cut in Bullet Train Meltdown

The Panda Lobby, the pundits and policy wonks who want the US to imitate China’s state capitalism, has long celebrated what it claims to be China’s far sighted and effective approach to industrial policy.  China, the Panda pundits tell us, will own the future because of its courageous subsidies to green technology and high speed rail.  The meltdown of the Chinese solar industry has been widely reported; now comes word that the rail program is also in trouble.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The railway ministry had a rough 2011: Top ministry officials were ousted on corruption charges; technical snafus marred the opening of its signature Beijing-Shangai bullet line; and July’s grisly train collision crushed government confidence its technology was the new global standard.

Spending on rail will fall 42 percent from projected levels, and the priority looks to shift from gee-whiz high speed bullet trains to the expansion of China’s overstretched freight network.

Those of us who remember the short lived but intense Sushi Lobby, the Americans who thought the US needed to imitate the brilliant success of Japanese state capitalism back in those halcyon days of the 1980s when the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were estimated to cost more than the entire state of California, will be waiting to hear how the Panda pundits explain the high speed rail meltdown.

A stern and dignified silence, followed by a swift change of subject, is what the secret pundit manual recommends for situations like this one.  We shall see.

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  • Jane Townson

    Will Mead ever call the Jewish or Israel lobby the ‘kosher lobby’? Will he call the black lobby the ‘fried chicken lobby’ or ‘watermelon lobby’? Or is he the kind of coward who likes to make fun of Asians because he knows the Asian community in America is small and generally not vocal?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Jane: You are very quick to accuse other people of very nasty things. The reference is to AMERICANS who think the US should imitate a foreign country’s policies, not to foreigners or to Americans who think the US should support a given foreign country. It has nothing to do with Asians per se or Asian Americans. You might have a happier life if you weren’t so quick on the trigger.

  • MaleschMorrocco

    Thomas Friedman call your office!

  • zhombre

    Ssshhh — don’t tell Tom Friedman. He’ll be indignant.

  • Luke Lea

    Similar things are happening in China’s big push into green technology, the manufacture of solar cells in particular. An article ( in Technology Review says they are taking over the industry. However, a commenter had this to say:

    “Fundamentally the equipment capital purchases and electrical energy to run the plants in China is near free money from the Chinese government.

    It is well known to those who bother to look, that the Chinese government outright subsidizes near all manufacturing capital purchases, for FREE, and electrical power use is heavily subsidized. I have heard this first hand and it is not restricted in the slightest to the solar industry either.

    I’d hazard a guess you do not know your subject that you are writing on well enough to be credible.

    I have heard repeatedly from Chinese nationals in the USA, recruiting for Chinese technology ventures / startups, that their manufacturing equipme3nt and plants were paid for by the Government – and given near free rein to do so at any scale or magnitude of capital, for any credible business plan ( ie the “loans” are not capitalist loans, they are in effect grants, given the jobs and employment produced as quid pro quo ).

    If you are unaware of this actual dynamic, I urge you to study and research your topics MORE before making claims the Chinese know manufacturing better ( in any manner, with any implied greater wisdom ).

    They are often hacks, amateurs, and the recent HF acid dumping fiasco where a solar plant repeatedly and continually dumped HF hydrofluoric acid waste on unsuspecting farmers lands adjacent to the plant is incomprehensible – even evil. If you know what HF acid is and its immeasurably poisonous nature, you’d lose respect for these Fools in an instant.

    The ironic part ( but entirely predictable if bothering to look in greater depth as this topic deserves ) is that Chinese industry ALWAYS overbuilds, crashes the profitability of any product market segment they oversaturate, and other than generating overcapacity in China, they kill off the targeted competition in EVERY market they saturate with “critical mass”.

    Presently seemingly unknown to you is that many (>30%) solar cell / panel plants in China are CLOSING manufacturing since together they destroyed profits for EVERYONE, but did it so egregiously, that they now have >~50% of their solar panel manufacturers unable to generate profits ( despite the subsidies ) given how they massively oversaturated the markets with incomprehensible overcapacity.

    The Chinese government did not INVEST in solar, they went on a mad drunken irresponsible spending spree, with obvious long term financial consequences for everyone.

    Profits of a durable nature are not the end result of overspending, of massive incomprehensible overcapacity. Decimation of profits for everyone is the inevitable result of irresponsible overbuilding of capacity.”

  • Jeff McCabe

    Jane, why do you hate pandas? In what way do you think this is making fun of Asians? Or is any way comparable to fried chicken and watermelons. I suspect he would refer to the Soviets lobby as the Bear lobby. It’s kind of disturbing that your mind works that way. Fried chicken and watermelons?

  • Tblakely

    Some people have orgasmic highs when they can accuse others of racism. So for them the standard of evidence is pretty low.

  • R.C.

    Jane: Seriously?

    Are you the type of person who’d call a woman a racist if she used the word “niggardly?” Who’d call a man sexist if he held the door open for you?

    I see that WRM has already replied, but really: Do you mean to tell me that you couldn’t tell, just by reading the piece, that the reference was to white Americans who, for whatever reason, had adopted the reflex of saying the Japanese (or the Chinese) were better than Americans whenever they did something different than the U.S.?

    I mean, I thought that was perfectly clear from context. The notion that WRM was writing a racist screed against Asians is eliminated from plausibility by the opening sentence: “The Panda Lobby, the pundits and policy wonks who want the US to imitate China’s state capitalism.”

    Jane, in English style, that subordinate clause after the comma is intended to define what comes before it.

    Read the sentence a couple of extra times if you don’t get it the first time: These are a bunch of D.C. guys (sure, I suppose a few of them might be Asian-descent, presumably in rough proportion to the number of Asians in U.S. society, but it won’t be a majority of them).

    They’re leftists who think that the American way of doing things (without government subsidies) is inferior to the European way (with) and who’re disappointed that the European way has bankrupted Europe. They’re dying for a counter-example to vindicate their worldview. They thought they found it in Japan in the 80’s. (Whoops.) Then they thought they found it in China more recently. (Whoops.)

    It simply isn’t rational for Mead (or me) to be called racist for observing that “Whoops” and calling attention to it.

  • Dick Potomick


    The Sushi Lobby, the Pandy Lobby? Stop it1 I can’t take it any long! But keep it coming –please!


  • Rhodium Heart

    @Jane: I’ve never understood why people like you think fried chicken and watermelon are exclusively “black” things. I’m quite white and I love watermelon. Can’t. Get. Enough. It’s not just a black thing, so y’know. Fried chicken? It too has got multiracial appeal. IOW, your alleged anger at racial stereotyping would be more powerful if it didn’t rely so heavily on false stereotypes. PS: You do know that Pandas are only from China, right?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Rhodium Heart: actually, the last time I was in China, several Chinese pointed out to me that fried chicken and watermelon are two favorite foods in China. You will see them everywhere — and they are good!

  • Ducatisti

    Yeesh, Jane. Pretty quick on that raaaacism button there, girl. Do you think WRM is against asians? Have you read many of his essays? Try it, Jane. He is quite insightful.

    Actually, your response is more funny than sad. I suggest: Get out more. Live life. Ride a motorcycle at 120mph. Whatever might make you happy, not harpy. 🙂



    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Ducastist et al: I think Jane has had enough push back so let’s let it go. People say a lot of things in the comments about how dumb I am and how like Swiss cheese my feeble arguments are and I normally just let it go. The same thing with the various slurs on my character, or attacks on me for being one of those horrible liberals or troglodytic conservatives — we get both. Being labeled a racist on such flimsy grounds was harder to take, but I think the point has been made. Thanks to all who pointed this out, and thanks to everyone, including Jane, who reads the site.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Spending on rail will fall 42 percent from projected levels, and the priority looks to shift from gee-whiz high speed bullet trains to the expansion of China’s overstretched freight network.”
    The stupid Communists should have focused on economy enhancing infrastructure all along, instead of prestigious white elephants like high speed rail and the tallest building. That’s the problem with developing nations, they see great nations with high speed rail and tall buildings and they think building them will make them great. The US is the foremost nation on earth and it doesn’t have high speed rail, because they all lose money everywhere they have been tried. And the tall buildings it has were built as a matter of economic necessity, where land prices are at a premium. The US has most of the infrastructure it needs, and need not spend anything beyond maintenance and upgrades. So the panda pundits are all barking up the wrong tree, if you already have a furnace heating your house, it makes no sense to buy another just because the neighbor finally got a furnace of his own.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    I remember the “We will never beat Japan” drumbeat during the 1980s – it was so pervasive, it even seeped into TV sitcom jokes. A big stink was made in the media when some Japanese investors bought the iconic Rockefeller Center in the late 1980s. That all kinda just vanished like smoke as Japan slipped into a 20-yr recession in the 1990s and the subject was quietly changed. We should consider ourselves lucky if a Chinese implosion is accompanied by “quiet.”

  • Kris

    I am grateful to the Sushi Lobby for expanding my culinary horizons. I’ll be giving the Panda Lobby an opportunity to do the same.

  • Walt

    I love your work, WRM, thanks.

    I was just in China – lots of people and lots of travel between cities. People with money take airplanes and avoid trains.

    Why? Because they sell as many train tickets as possible and the “porters” jam people in the doors until there’s no more standing room. They can’t sell standing room on the Boeings they fly twixt cities, so you get a seat and some breathing space, plus a clear aisle to the bathroom.

    Just something to think about….

  • Richard

    Getting back to the subject here, I’ve been arguing with some dimwits in California about what a stupid idea these high speed trains are and I’ve ended my posts with the following: trains are for freight. I’m glad to see the Chinese have adopted “my” idea, hopefully the fools in Sacramento will wake up too. Trains are for freight.

  • TmjUtah

    When the Robber Barons rose to the top of the American economic heap beginning in the 1870’s and climaxing their power around 1900, the individuals in that club generally displayed equal amounts of drive, ambition, smarts, and bare knuckle toughness to get where they wanted to be – which was making profits.

    Alas, our current crop of semi- representative governments took a century to convince themselves that all being a businessman was about was writing checks and bossing around defenseless people.

    The commies never even figured out that the shouting was just wasting time if you couldn’t grok “profit” at all.

    Making things happen isn’t about making things happen. It’s about realizing a benefit from making things happen.

    We are children governed by a mix of clowns, fools, and villains. Some times by all three at once.

  • Claude Hopper

    Don’t these high speed train people know there is an internet that can connect people via any number of communication devices. I’ve sat in an office in Houston and discussed project details with team members in Balikpappan, Indonesia over an internet video link. To hold that meeting face to face would have taken over 4 full days of travel for each team member not to mention the airfare costs. Although high speed rail might be feasible in high density corridors (Bos NY,DC), it makes little sense for a dying state to institute it. Rail is so 1860’s anyway.

  • Black Sabbath

    The high speed rail and solar meltdowns in China will never stop Obama’s desire to imitate that here.

  • Rich K

    Lonely at the front isnt it Walt? Maybe we need a new secret language so as to assuage all these sensative folk who can’t handle the present way of speaking clearly. Have a good New Years 😉

  • Spencer

    I’d like to have some trains. Have you ever ridden the trains? It’s safe and convenient. I sure hope the future has trains in it because I hate cars. Postscript- You’d have to be tone deaf to not think referring to national blocs as “The <> Lobby” isn’t offensive because it really is. I’m queer, is my political advocacy supposed to be called The Well-Decorated Lobby? Yeah I’m mature enough to dismiss your points on their own lack of merit but it’s annoying as [heck] to see niggling bigotry here and there.

  • Fred List

    China has more high speed rail than any other country in the world, even counting the 27 member states of the EU as a single country.

    Once every major city is connected by high speed rail, are you going to connect every town, village and hamlet too?

    The decline in RR construction doesn’t mean that China’s investments were worthless anymore than the decline in highway construction after Eisenhower indicated the failure of the US road system.

    There was no meltdown in solar by the way.

    Incomes for most Americans have been declining for at least a decade, declines in real terms. The Chinese are richer and richer with every day. Check back in 10 years to see how well the US low taxes – small govt. model is doing.

  • TOM

    Jane, take a chill pill. The Panda is China’s national animal. Refering to the Panda Lobby seems no more racist than referring to New Zealanders as ‘Kiwis’

  • Karl Kling

    One of the conclusions is that overproduction of goods is a bad thing.

    As we all know, in the private sector, profit is the only incentive for doing business. Scarcity and planned obsolescence of products mean high profit, abundance and sustainability the opposite.

    Question: How can we achieve a sustainable economy despite this conflict of interest?

  • Kongdan

    I’m a professor at university in shandong province and been coming to China for 12 years. From midwest (MO) originally now living in florida when now in China. I find the high speed train here very efficient. For years I opposed the high speed train linking south florida to orlando and tampa now stopped by Fl gov now I have second thoughts. Train travel for hundreds of thoisands of chinese is their only option… it works. China struggles with quality products in everything… but they are great imitators and learn very fast…

  • JEB

    Lived and worked in PRC for years.
    Watermelon, peaches, cucumbers, were favorites as they came into season.
    Fried chicken as we know it not so much.
    (Although a couple of KFC’s showed up before we left.)
    Fried chicken with chili peppers; that was a treat.

  • A

    I think you are getting the train things wrong in many cases. I don’t think it’s that people think that the Chinese are great, and they are doing trains, so trains must be great.

    It’s more than people think trains are great (because they associate it with lifestyles that don’t involve lots of what they deem to be alienating suburbia), so if the Chinese are doing trains, the Chinese must be great.


    Despite flourishes of activity, collectivist economies such as China’s will eventually stagnate because of the following conflicting attributes:

    Effective innovation results from contrarian thinking, individual initiative, and the voluntary exchange of property.

    Efficient implementation of government planning requires conformity of opinion, collective action, and the coerced transfer of property.

  • Don Miguel

    Whenever I read articles about “superior” Chinese this or that, the first thing I think of is 1980’s Japan. The 1980’s Japanese manufacturing and management style were all the rage. They could do no wrong. They had all the money and bought everything they didn’t own. The only way to lose money in their stock market, was to not be in their stock market. Then, that dinged-danged recession of 1990 came along and you can now get a 100 year mortgage in Japan. Their housing bubble was paying for everything. And rather than lose money on real estate and writing off the losses, they just kept the prices that were on the homes and let time catch up to the home value. Talk about your “time is money” example.

    Fast forward 30 years. The Chinese have modernized their economy and society. The industrial working class has exploded out of the countryside and into their “urbanside”. Their society did in about 40 years what took America about 100 years, but the two do exactly correlate.

    America built the “economic tools” then used them. Refinement of those tools took place when when society and economy got out of sync. When, not if, the Chinese economy stumbles, there could be significant social discord.

    In summary, when there is an economic calamity in China, the government will have to pay off their people with US Treasury paper. The people will likely cash the paper in for cents on the dollar, opting out of long term returns for desperately needed “right now” money. Economics, like every other science defines it’s motion sinusoidally. Moves up, moves down. Wax on, wax off.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I’m confused!

    I thought the watermelon lobby was another name for the environmental movement, which is made-up almost exclusively of the offspring of privileged, over-indulged white people.

    The fried chicken lobby? Isn’t that the pacifist wing (“make peace, not war!”) of the marijuana legalization lobby? Again, made-up almost exclusively of the spawn of over-privileged, over-indulged white people.

    As far as the kosher lobby is concerned, I always equated that with the kosher foods-wing of my favorite neighborhood deli.

    Words have meaning. We need to be careful, lest we lose control of our language.

  • Chad

    Russel, it’s easy to explain. The property bubble in China is popping. Local and state governments had been getting most of their revenues from property sales. They have to cut spending on just about anything they can.

    The Chinese HSR will be there, moving hundreds of millions per year, for a century. America hasn’t built anything half as impressive in two generations at least.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Chad: the internet doesn’t impress you?

  • stonedome

    here in florida, our current gov rejected obama stimulus funds for hi speed rail between tampa and orlando. he stared into the chasm of economic disaster and pulled us back from the abyss. thank you gov rick scott

  • Larsky

    WRM “We shall see”.

    I’d lay money on full steam ahead in California. Early on they worked overtime to shut down mass transit while building the largest interstate system in the world for autos which they now denigrate for their pollution. I can’t imagine Sacramento not falling all over themselves to spend billions on a new high speed rail system that will bankrupt them further and then fail to do what they say it will. Ah yes but there will be new union jobs and that is what counts. Votes, Votes,Votes.

    Also I’m thinking a high speed rail between Chicago and Omaha would be neat as well. That way I could use it once and a while when I go back home to Nebraska. Amtrak is too slow for guys like me and there is never anyone on board to talk to. Real Boring.

  • robert.williamson

    why would anyone with half a brain choose a train ride of five hours versus a plain ride of 1 hour. chad said “we dont have anything half as impressive?” who wants impressive 19th century technology when we have airplains that are faster and cheaper? hey I know what. lets spend billions building hospitals that use leeches but do it really fast! I hear they do it in the rain forests. we should copy them!

  • teapartydoc

    Building done by governments should never impress. Most of the time it is done with stolen money and for reasons other than those stated, and usually does not accomplish the originally stated goals.

  • Balanced_mind

    Jane Townson: You are so correct in your offense; we should lay off the names; and simply be precise in our description. They should be called the MORON Lobby… as it seems that every single thing the left comes up with fails. Thats not a theory .. its a fact shown by years and years of results.. Every construct they have developed over the last 60 years is crashing off a cliff; and the left here wants to follow them.

  • tom kinney

    This is part of a greater scheme, what in England has been called “cramming down.” The idea is to move all sentient beings into large cities where they can abandon cars, live in controlled high rises, and use only mass transportation when and if they’re allowed to travel. They–the leftstream bureaucrats who see themselves saving the world from climate change and other assorted and invented maladies they’ve embraced with a lover’s passion–will continue to live in the wide-open country perhaps as a sacrifice for our sakes while also allowing them to oversee our shennanigans better.

    The latest fever where I live are the building of many many roundabouts, a Euro invention of sorts that’s supposed to save gas. But there’s been no prepping of the population for them, so there have been a number of accidents. (Our leftist county executive refused to widen a dangerous road, hoping someday to use its dangers to force the issue of a bullet train through here instead.) A simple public service ad could have remedied the roundabout confusion–a fellow employee was badly concussed at one recently–but in their thinking nothing can be allowed to stop the machinery of leftest big government bureaucracy from grinding away at our rights, priviliges, traditions– so far stopping just short of demanding our first born. All must go, to make room for the new brave world; Boss Tweed Obama says so.

    There is some kind of new collective pathology going on in all this that passes for “thinking things out”–this being just the latest utopian Brave New World of many that have failed before–but I tire these days of trying to figure it all out. Instead, I’ll go back into my back 40 and work on renativizing my land as long as I’m allowed to maintain ownership of it.

  • JRR

    Will someone explain the widespread, intense anti-rail sentiments in the US? Wouldn’t it be nice to hop on a train just before dinner in NY or Washington, enjoy a leisurely meal onboard, let the train’s gentle swings lull you into a deep sleep and wake up in Chicago or Atlanta, fully refreshed for a day of business or fun? Compare that to a drive to the airport, cops threatening tickets if you take too long to load or unload, airlines trying to shake you down for the check-in bag, take your shoes off and get your laptop out for the 30-minute security checks, hustle for space in the overhead bin and pay $60 for a taxi ride to the hotel…do I need to keep going?
    I was on two overnight trains in India recently, each trip about 500 miles – I slept so well the conductor had to wake me up as the trains reached destinations early in the morning.

  • messup

    One wonders what would a “capitalist/socialist/communistic” economy look like…or even function?

    That’s what both Japan (in the 80’s) and now China have been trying to gerrymander into their economic growth plans with same ‘ol, same ‘ol predicatble results,i.e., dismal, abject failures.

    Every country in the world, has some shade of top down, command type, political/economic organization as it’s operating model…with dismal failures as it’s result (both for it’s Nation and it’s People).

    Only one Country has successfully freed itself of this shackled growth model and spurted ahead to fantastic accomplishments for ALL mankind…yes, tried and true, unfettered , free market Capitalism a la American style.

    Celebrate American Exceptionalism, Free market Capitalism and Individual ability to be the best they can be.

    Vote Massively for Capitalism (vs. socialism) this 2012 election, for massive fraud is all around us. God Bless America.

  • George Turner

    If you look at Amtrak’s current ridership versus the number of employees and expanded it to replace all our cars, it would take about 20 million government employees to get us from somewhere not so near point A to somewhere not so near point B, and with vastly less convenience than we currently enjoy.

    In China, the number of employees having their time wasted running trains and the inconvenience to everyone riding the trains was irrelevant.

  • Scott

    I was going to make the obligatory reference to Thomas Friedman’s wondrous embrace of the Chinese model, but I see I am way too late. So I’ll relate a brief observation prompted by Jane Townson’s comment instead.

    When I was getting my MBA in the late ’80s I remember discussing “Samurai bonds” and “Yankee bonds” in an investment banking class.

    The term “Samurai bond” is simply a convenient, shorthand way to describe a bond offering denominated in Japanese Yen issued by a non-Japanese company. Likewise, a “Yankee bond” is a dollar denominated bond issued by a company whose reporting currency is not the U.S. dollar.

    I wonder if it’s even acceptable to use the words “Samurai bonds” and “Yankee bonds” in a world that worships at the altar of multi-culturalism, where references to differences in countries/culture are forbidden because it violates the radical egalitarian ideological agenda of the New Left.

    As Jane demonstrates, they enforce the restriction on any language that is used to innocently distinguish cultural differences by pretending to be offended and outraged at someone who dares to acknowledge the differences. Charges of racism and bigotry are hurled about – explicitly or implicitly – indiscriminately. And it often works because the New Left has conditioned us to believe that being labeled a racist or bigot – whether justified or not – is worthy of the same level of scorn and stigma that society normally reserves for baby eating serial killing cannibals.

  • Gus Malanga

    Now that everyone has sufficiently punished @Jane, let me add another perspective on WRM’s column that is also relevant. Evaluating Chinese economic policy solely from whether it makes profitable sense is besides the point.

    In addition to normal economic sense, the Chinese have made a political decision to keep an extra 200 million Chinese working rather than unemployed and making political trouble. Accordingly, they subsidize industrial production by selling at or below cost to keep full employment.

    Workers busy and tired from full time work are less likely to engage in riots and political turmoil than unemployed youth. They marry, start families, buy homes and cars, and otherwise stay out of trouble because they have a growing stake in preserving the status quo.

    I despise Chinese political repression and specially its government birth control policies. But it is consistent with Chinese history and its Confucian traditions to keep people satisfied by hard work, stability and conformism. Similarly, it is consistent with American traditions to promote diversity, ingenuity and non-conformity. Different strokes for different folks.

  • Kris

    JRR@41: “Will someone explain the widespread, intense anti-rail sentiments in the US?”

    Gladly. First, it’s not so much an anti-rail sentiment as an anti-“Gummint taking yet more of my money to build more rail” sentiment. Second, if you study the matter, you’ll easily find that as nice as rail can be, it is generally a money sink. Third, you are comparing the messy reality of air travel with ideal train travel. For example, if high-speed rail took off (sorry), how long do you think it would take until the TSA got involved?

  • frankensnake

    @JRR – We all appreciate the romanticism of rail travel, but it’s the practical realities that keep rearing their ugly little heads. Passenger rail is really, really expensive to build and maintain, and nowhere does any of that happen without massive government subsidies. I suppose one could argue this is an “investment”, but the evidence of any return on all those subsidy dollars is dubious at best.

  • biggcatt

    @spencer no yours should be the “my lifestyle shortens life expectancy 3 times more than smoking but it should be mainstreamed and taught in schools while smoking should be banned hypocrite” lobby. BTW love most of the gay people I’ve met in my life. I just despise the militant gay agenda.

  • tom kinney

    JRR: there are supposedly only two fast speed rail lines between two cities in the world–one in Japan, one in France–that don’t lose tons of money and bankrupt their populations, and there are none that aren’t heavily subsidized.

    Once we find that alternative universe in which progressive expenditures match progressive revenues, I’m up for magic railroads as well.

    For example, it would be great to live in Big Rock Candy Mountain Theme Park all day every day and sip wine out of lemonade fountains, too, but I’m afraid I have to tell you it just doesn’t exist.

    Yet. that is.

    Obama is probably drawing up the blueprint as we speak.

  • AP Blues

    Always amusing to see people with little knowledge of China discuss its present and future.

  • Tom Kinney

    Maybe we can give JRR another vision of the glories of railroad life.

    In early 1966 I took a train from Wadi Haifa, the first town in Sudan coming from Egypt that was quickly flooding under the Aswan Dam being built at the time. Destination, Khartoum. I rode third class with a gaggle of camel herders on their way back home from a mass sale in Egypt where they’d herded them. An older herder sitting in front of me was quite sick and because there was no air conditioning and the windows couldn’t be opened, he gagged and spat, gagged and spat every few seconds into the closed window until eventually the slobber started running down the windows and collecting on the floorboards at his feet.

    You couldn’t open the windows because the sand from the Nubian desert poured in nonstop and down your gullet. Sadly, even with the windows shut, it shot down your throat until you could barely breath, so it hardly mattered. By the time I arrived at Khartoum, I couldn’t even swallow water. Couldn’t get all the sand out of my mouth for days after. It was a 24 hour trip.

    “Thanks god,” as my French Swiss atheist friend would say, for the ginger pop, without which I wouldn’t have done that well. Unfortunately, after a couple bottles, even at Sudanese prices, it was out of my budget range.

    There are memories and there are memories.

  • Aaron Z.

    @Frankensake: Transportation in any form rarely makes money. The returns come in the form of increased economic activity outside, which is often difficult to measure. The US put its chips in roads in the 1950’s. Isn’t ironic that Mr. Mead is angry at the second-largest spending program ever, when the biggest was the Interstates (which also went over budget and were subject to criticism). The US went all in on roads 60 years ago, and right now China is going all in with HSR now. I say we wait and see who was right.

    Incidentally, I find it funny how the people who make these Japan comparisons generally are from the US and are the same people who argue that trade is generally zero-sum and China’s gains are America’s losses. It all reeks of trying to discredit the opposition when they clearly have the winning strategy.

  • echarles1

    @Gus Malanga
    Whether Chinese policy is consistent with Confucian traditions is what is beside the point. The Communist Party of China would try to buy off the populace regardless.

    Chinese state capitalism is clearly highly productive. But it is not highly efficient in distributing production.

    It is not a case of “Different strokes for different folks.” America for all its faults is vastly more free, open and transparent in its society and its economy. These are superior values not just because we like them but because they are correctives to just such problems as arise in Chinese style state capitalism.

  • matty b

    I have traveled extensively on China’s inter-city rail system. It is comfortable, cost effective and prompt. When factoring in time to get through air port security etc, travel time is very similar to air travel for distances of up to 700 miles with the current 350km/hr technology. I believe that it is very short-sighted of us to not invest in rail here in the US (especially in California).

  • http://none jack pogue

    LARSKY….Your comment was brillant…Was in St.Louis two years ago..Rode the downtown train from the airport to the Arch for a concert..A resident of the city told me the
    city could have bought a new Toyota for every citizen of the city and paid the gas bill for what the train cost the city..Very low ridership, he told me..

  • alvin firpo

    i hate to be [a skunk at the garden party], but i work internationally. daily, i am confronted with chinese manufactured products which are fubar. in a refinery type setting, the last thing one wants is questionable materials, equipment, or quality.

    the chinese paradigm may, or may not, be on the cusp of being the greatest thing since sliced bread; i can, however, attest that the chinese have yet to provide for the whole of their population anywhere near the prosperity the poorest country in the west has afforded its citizens. nor have the chinese invented any new form of technology, gadget, or process which fundamentally transforms and industry, or sector of the economy.

    the chinese copy stuff. and rather poorly i might add. were it not for wal-mart, the chinese would be engaged in making knock-off chopsticks, and doing a rather poor job of it.

  • Gus Malanga

    We all love high speed passenger rails. But they benefit mostly the coasts, as presently built, and need large subsidies.

    Roads also gets subsidized everywhere. But rural areas resent subsidizing urban higher income areas. Time tough, as Toots Maytal would say!

  • Gus Malanga

    I agree with you 100% and in no way my “different strokes…” comment suggest my approval of the Chinese government methods. Pardon my Sly and the Family Stone memory. Perhaps I should have listed all my reasons to despise Chinese communism, not just coercive population control. I’m a refugee from communism, nuff said.

    The Chinese will soon enough pay for their top down crony capitalism because it created a demographic time bomb with their one child policy. Millions of baby girls aborted or killed at birth will deflate the Chinese balloon pronto. Too few workers to take care of many millions of older men.

    Reminds me of how the Soviets Holodomor mass starvation was also imposed from the top, down to the kulaks who were starved, deported and executed. Both policies were “intended” to make life “better” for the working class. Totalitarians make omelets because they like to break eggs!

  • Lorenz Gude

    I would point out that the a train is a serial device and an automobile an example of a random access device. Generally random access devices are more convenient than serial devices – think of disk drives versus tape drives in computing or books versus scrolls. A transportation system needs a combination of both classes of device. The first time I travelled west of the Eastern seaboard in the sixties I found myself on I70 driving all night. Every time I topped I rise I could see trailer trucks from horizon to horizon. I was a lone car in the middle of a freight train. One boxcar, one engine. This experience brought home to me the gross inefficiency of using random access devices to do a job that really suites serial devices. You still need the random access devices at either end, but containerization and computers have helped rail freight make a partial comeback. I think the US got it wrong on freight, but I don’t see medium haul passenger trains, like the SF LA run being viable. I happen to travel between Oakland and Ontario when in the US and I see no reason other than curiosity I’d take a hight speed train. The same everyone else who didn’t happen to be near the tracks. For me and many others the two termini would be further than the current decentralized airports because the train is a ‘hard tracked’ serial device while you can sprinkle the plane termini around a large metro area without having to connect them up with iron.

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