About China’s high-speed rail edge ….

posted at 2:00 pm on April 23, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama has spent the past two years scolding Americans on our lack of progress on high-speed rail, using China as a yardstick — or more appropriately, a ruler with which to rap our knuckles.  Almost exactly two years ago, Obama announced his intention to spend tens of billions of dollars in catching up to China and Europe in subsidizing the rail lines and systems for high-speed transport.  “My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America,” Obama said in April 2009, saying of China that it “may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now.”

Or maybe not, as the Washington Post’s Charles Lane reports after his trip to see the project first-hand.  The vaunted high-speed rail project pushed by Beijing has collapsed into a morass of embezzlement and failure (via Jonah Goldberg):

For the past eight years, Liu Zhijun was one of the most influential people in China. As minister of railways, Liu ran China’s $300 billion high-speed rail project. U.S., European and Japanese contractors jostled for a piece of the business while foreign journalists gushed over China’s latest high-tech marvel.

Today, Liu Zhijun is ruined, and his high-speed rail project is in trouble. On Feb. 25, he was fired for “severe violations of discipline” — code for embezzling tens of millions of dollars. Seems his ministry has run up $271 billion in debt — roughly five times the level that bankrupted General Motors. But ticket sales can’t cover debt service that will total $27.7 billion in 2011 alone. Safety concerns also are cropping up.

But hey, the trains still run on time, don’t they?  Not exactly:

Faced with a financial and public relations disaster, China put the brakes on Liu’s program. On April 13, the government cut bullet-train speeds 30 mph to improve safety, energy efficiency and affordability. The Railway Ministry’s tangled finances are being audited. Construction plans, too, are being reviewed.

Liu’s legacy, in short, is a system that could drain China’s economic resources for years. So much for the grand project that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times likened to a “moon shot” and that President Obama held up as a model for the United States.

Even with substandard materials and shoddy construction, the system faces annual shortfalls of billions of dollars.  Now the system runs a lot slower, although the price isn’t likely to decline, and bus service will look better and better to the working class the high-speed rail was supposed to serve.  The pricing is why the train services mainly the wealthy and foreigners even with the massive subsidies for its operation.

For the record, the $271 billion sinkhole exceeds our government’s cost of taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and we have an annual GDP around three times larger than China’s.

Lane explains in his lengthy, must-read article that failure is the norm and not the exception for high-speed rail systems.  In Japan and Taiwan, high-speed rail systems needed government bailouts to keep operating.  Our own experience with Amtrak should make that fairly clear; despite having to make minimal capital investments (as opposed to capital-intensive startups for railroads), Amtrak routinely runs deep in the red, and even that is deeply subsidized, as Ronald Utt reminded us last month at Heritage:

Ridership has also faltered. As Amtrak data reveal, FY 2008 was the high-water mark for ridership in recent years. Ridership fell in FY 2009 and returned only to 2008 levels in 2010, when it reached 28.7 million nationwide,[7] about 10 million fewer passengers than went through the Phoenix airport in 2009.[8] To achieve this incidental market share, Amtrak required a federal taxpayer subsidy of $4.4 billion over the three fiscal years in question. As a result, Amtrak receives the highest per-passenger federal subsidy of any mode: $237.53 per 1,000 passenger-miles compared to $4.23 per 1,000 passenger-miles for commercial aviation.[9]

None of us should be surprised at the failure of China’s high-speed rail, but we’d better all learn a lesson from it.  Nineteenth-century transportation systems are not the answer for our transportation infrastructure, especially when air service is faster, cheaper, much more flexible, and self-supporting.  We need to stop the federal government from attempting these social engineering projects and focus on spending reductions.  If politicians like playing with trains, let them buy a Lionel set like all the other little boys and girls.


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I believe that the standard airport receives an average of 4.6% per passenger of its operating revenue from the federal government, while Amtrak receives an average 36% per passenger.

See http://subsidyscope.org/transportation/amtrak/

unclesmrgol on April 23, 2011 at 11:10 PM

We’re subsidizing airports? Why?

As far as highways go, it isn’t so much that roads are subsidized as it is that we have a round-about way of charging for their use — the gas tax — and, with how much of that gets funneled into wasteful earmarks, car travel is probably the opposite of subsidized overall.

Count to 10 on April 24, 2011 at 10:08 AM

I am outraged. I am ouraged that all of the interest that we Americans pay to our Chinese Masters is being wasted and squandered on this high speed rail boondoggle.

BigAlSouth on April 24, 2011 at 10:24 AM

…………..
You have to remember that airline infrastructure (airports, air-traffic control) are subsidized with tax dollars (and to some extent ticket fees). Highways are subsidized with gasoline taxes as well as income and property taxes at various levels of government. I don’t have numbers, but my guess is that if passenger-rail infrastructure (tracks, catenaries, stations, control) were subsidized at the same level as air and highway, with private companies running the trains (as airlines do) high-speed rail would be viable in many areas of the USA.

………

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 7:15 PM

The definition of subsidies get confusing I guess?

Highways aren’t subsidized by gasoline, income and property taxes, that is how we pay for them and for a large part that is how airport infrastructure (ticket surcharges to relieve bond issues) is supported as well. I’m not sure I would call (most of) that a subsidy.

Now collecting taxes for one thing and using it for another is a subsidy, for example collecting gas taxes (used for highway construction and maintenance) to pay for electric car purchases, train infrastructure or taxes on coal and nuclear to pay for wind and solar development is a subsidy.

You really need to define what you mean by subsidy.

whbates on April 24, 2011 at 10:59 AM

The Obama proposal is ideal, for the Democrat party. I provides makework projects while maximizing the opportunity for political graft. What corrupt Democrat could ask for more?

kenprice on April 24, 2011 at 11:12 AM

You really need to define what you mean by subsidy.

whbates on April 24, 2011 at 10:59 AM

…or tax, or appropriation, or assessment, or whatever circumlocution anyone wants to employ. At the end of the day it’s all the same: the government, by force of law, has taken money out of my pocket. My wallet sees no distinction between a tax and a subsidy, and neither do I.

ss396 on April 24, 2011 at 2:13 PM

This is absolutely no surprise whatsoever to anyone who visits China on a regular basis, such as my wife on business. NOTHING works right in that country including all means of public transportation. Forget about being on time and forget the hype from China, Obama and others. My wife returns home from trips there with a load of fatigue. Not so much so regarding visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea (South Korea). She speaks Chinese (Mandarin) fluently. PRC’s infrastructure is crap and it can make one feel the same. We have traveled to both Hong Kong and Taiwan on vacation (our home is in Tokyo). I mention visiting PRC China and a frown is her response. I think that says a lot.
Besides large developed countries and regions (not many of these in the world!) these days rely on air travel domestically as Ed says. But go back a few decades and note we (I am American born and raised WITH birth certificate!) had more rail than the rest of the world combined. And it was safe. That is what a large and powerful democratic/capitalistic state can achieve. Never so under communism.
That is what Japan has achieved with its public transportation system. Including bullet train to buses running the same as clockwork. Note Japan is the ideal shape (a long narrow island nation) (for high speed rail with conventional rail branch/connections running off in all directions.)
Stuff plain don’t work without monetary incentive for enterprising individuals plain and simple.
Obama knows absolutely nothing about the nature of man and our history.
He should put down that Rules for Radicals and pick up some Hayek or Sowell or something. But somehow I can’t see him as reading widely as his mind is quite devastatingly (to the US) narrow…

Sherman1864 on April 24, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Nineteenth-century transportation systems are not the answer for our transportation infrastructure, especially when air service is faster, cheaper, much more flexible, and self-supporting.

Trains are absolutely essential to this country’s manufacturing infrastructure, so the 19th century moniker isn’t exactly fair. As fuel and truck freight prices go up, rail will become even more important to US competitiveness.

But I agree that huge investments in high speed rail don’t make a lot of sense, esp. given the country’s deficit.

It’s easy to complain about the ‘cost of subsidizing’ normal rail when other modes of transportation look cheaper. Of course that’s never the case, as building and maintaining the interstates is very expensive. To the extent that today’s rail lines take drivers off the road and reduce the need for costly lane expansion projects in heavily populated areas, its real cost is far less than critics often project

bayam on April 24, 2011 at 2:48 PM

You need look know further than California to see the problem with high-speed rail.

It can only be viable in densely populated areas, because it will take a lot of revenue just to repay the huge capital outlays. These trains can’t just run on existing tracks; entirely new tracks must be constructed, and that takes land. Land in densely populated areas is very expensive to acquire, and is already in use. So there are many billions to raise before the first rail is struck.

California’s grandiose scheme has already spent more than it was supposed to cost to get the first line operational, and there is nothing done yet. The primary route is supposed to be Frisco-LA, but the proposed first segment is Bakersfield to Madera. Bakersfield to Madera. Bakersfield to Madera, because there is so much traffic between those farming areas?

No, it’s because they can’t begin to afford to buy the property closer to populated areas. Heck, farmers are complaining about the good farmland being sacrificed and the price being offered. In the end, California will end up either seizing private property for a fraction of its value, or seeing its bankruptcy completed if they try to pay a fair market price (or are forced to by the courts).

Naturally, unions would be involved, as well as politicians, so you can count on many billions in overruns do to simple theft, and the costs of rebuilding shoddily constructed sections after disasters strike. See Boston’s “Big Dig” for a preview.

Amtrak is also a good example of the futility of rail as mass transit. Only 13% of Amtrak riders earn under $20,000, and every ticket is subsidized by the taxpayers and has been for almost 40 years. Amtrak not only isn’t getting more efficient and closer to being in the black, they don’t even have a plan to do so.

Every passenger on the Chicago-Denver run is subsidized $650; New York – LA requires $1000. It would be cheaper just to give the riders a free airline ticket and shut down the train.

If you think that’s a stupid subsidy, just wait until you get to subsidize high speed rail.

Adjoran on April 24, 2011 at 3:11 PM

This is absolutely no surprise whatsoever to anyone who visits China on a regular basis, such as my wife on business. NOTHING works right in that country including all means of public transportation. Forget about being on time and forget the hype from China, Obama and others. My wife returns home from trips there with a load of fatigue. Not so much so regarding visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea (South Korea). She speaks Chinese (Mandarin) fluently. PRC’s infrastructure is crap and it can make one feel the same. We have traveled to both Hong Kong and Taiwan on vacation (our home is in Tokyo). I mention visiting PRC China and a frown is her response. I think that says a lot.

Sherman1864 on April 24, 2011 at 2:40 PM

I don’t see it that way. I’ve lived in Shanghai for the last 5 years and have been visiting for over 20, starting in 1990 when I was living in Tokyo. At the time of my first visit Shanghai was much, much inferior to Tokyo in all respects. Terrible roads, everyone living in poor housing, awful service at businesses and generally very run down.

Today it’s a much nicer city, with a good public transportation system, much improved roads and highways, better housing, etc. By contrast, when I visit Tokyo it seems to have pretty much been frozen in time since the 90s, though Japan’s public debt has increased tremendously since then.

My point isn’t that China’s infrastructure is the best, but it’s certainly improving remarkably faster than that of Japan or the US.

DarkCurrent on April 24, 2011 at 3:27 PM

You really need to define what you mean by subsidy.

whbates on April 24, 2011 at 10:59 AM

…or tax, or appropriation, or assessment, or whatever circumlocution anyone wants to employ. At the end of the day it’s all the same: the government, by force of law, has taken money out of my pocket. My wallet sees no distinction between a tax and a subsidy, and neither do I.

ss396 on April 24, 2011 at 2:13 PM

whbates has a good point, that we should define ‘subsidy’ more closely. And ss396 has a good answer: if a government takes money out of your (and my) pocket to use for some dedicated purpose, I’d call that a subsidy. Put another way, most business enterprises can function, and perhaps earn a profit, with their own revenues. But if a business requires government to underwrite some of its activities, that’s a subsidy.

In the case of roadways (with the exception of a few private roads), these are wholly-owned ventures of government. Their construction and upkeep comes from bonds (floated by government), general tax revenues (for local roads, property taxes), and fuel taxes. I’d call that a 100% subsidy, but only for the infrastructure. The rest, the vehicles, gas stations, etc. are private. Similarly for airlines.

I think it makes sense to underwrite passenger rail the same way. Let the government build and own the infrastructure; let private companies operate buy and operate the trains. In fact, I’d argue that freight rail needs some subsidy as well. And it’s happening: public-private partnerships in freight-rail infrastructure are becoming common.

I don’t think, BTW, that arguing for such support violates conservative principles. Commerce is the engine that drives the nation, and roads, rails, and airways make commerce possible.

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 24, 2011 at 10:42 PM

To not see the infrastructure changes in China is crazy. They are spending 70 billion on airports over the next 3 or 4 years alone. We spent $787 on what again…I honestly couldn’t tell you.

I don’t know where your wife goes but it must be out in the boonies.. Sure they have a long way to go but that really isn’t the point. There goal is Singapore, that is there model. And they are moving fast towards that goal.

NOTHING works right in that country including all means of public transportation.

That is just exaggeration. Ok, she doesn’t like China, everyone who lives here can understand that but that is just nonsense. Every train I’ve been on (maybe 50 one way journeys) has been to the second…on time. The subways in Shanghai and Guangzhou are massive and on time. Flights have delays but what part of the world don’t they?

Hong Kong had a hundred years of British planning and Taipei was wild west when I first went there 20 years ago. Taipei’s transformation really happened in the past 10 years.

Yes, China can be difficult, there are “Chinese fire drills” daily and it can be maddening place. But they get where they are going in their own way.

Rahmulus on April 24, 2011 at 10:46 PM

Rahmulus on April 24, 2011 at 10:46 PM

I get the sense you’ve been to China and aren’t just talking out of your ass.

DarkCurrent on April 24, 2011 at 11:19 PM

…or tax, or appropriation, or assessment, or whatever circumlocution anyone wants to employ. At the end of the day it’s all the same: the government, by force of law, has taken money out of my pocket. My wallet sees no distinction between a tax and a subsidy, and neither do I.

ss396 on April 24, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Well maybe your wallet doesn’t, but you should. Highways are a major expense and if you’re going to spend lots of money on an auto then you want well maintained roads, right. Somehow that road need to be maintained so how do you purpose that happens? Since mostly everything that uses gas also utilizes the highways then the gas tax seems on its face to be reasonable. Maybe you would prefer a fee every time you leave the driveway of your home or parking lot of your apartment?

Generally speaking the fees or taxes (such as gas tax) collected have been for a stated purpose. One that can be audited, revisited from time to time and voted on, and I don’t have a problem with that. However, charging me a tax for one thing to support another is a subsidy. Charging, all electric or gas utility users fees/taxes to help some startup or private citizen to install solar or wind turbine equipment that will ultimately (even if they worked) make may electricity more expensive stupid and a wasteful and counterproductive subsidy.

whbates on April 24, 2011 at 11:23 PM

DarkCurrent..

Yes, I’m in China now. Been in Asia for the past 15 years, China for the past 7, I spend most of my time in Shenzhen, Guanzhou and Xiamen.

I was in Tokyo in 1990 also…as I think you mentioned you were…Tokyo was a good time but the city messed with my head, I was happy to get out after a year and half. But all in all, it was a good experience. Loved roppongi at the time…I heard it’s changed a lot…I think about that all night sushi restaurant we would eat before catching the first subway train at 5:30 AM.

Rahmulus on April 25, 2011 at 12:02 AM

Loved roppongi at the time…

Rahmulus on April 25, 2011 at 12:02 AM

Roppongi? Really?

DarkCurrent on April 25, 2011 at 12:12 AM

You didn’t go to Roppongi at that time? It was a Mecca. Hot Japanese girls as far as the eye could see and with the added bonus of extremely hot foreign models sprinkled in. It was before the crash and the models were all from top agencies like Ford.

One of my friends was a half American/Japanese who was obsessed with the models. He knew them all and would drag us (kicking and screaming you can bet)to parties and clubs were they would be.

Heaven.

What did you hang out in Shin-Okubu and play pachinko?

Rahmulus on April 25, 2011 at 12:42 AM

We’re subsidizing airports? Why?

Count to 10 on April 24, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Because John Murtha was in Congress.

John Deaux on April 25, 2011 at 8:24 AM

Maybe you would prefer a fee every time you leave the driveway of your home or parking lot of your apartment?

whbates on April 24, 2011 at 11:23 PM

OK, let’s try this again: Roads and highways are a government responsibility. But whether I pay for them through a State income tax, or through a gasoline tax, or through a tire-sales fee, or an assessment on my property tax, or whichever method or combination of methods is used to fund them is ultimately irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the roads and highways are built and maintained from a dedicated revenue stream, or from a budget allocation out of the general fund. In the final accounting, it makes no difference.

Your argument against government subsidies is well-taken; I agree with you that government should not be for the private benefit of a privileged class. Your point is about the destination of the funds; mine is about the origin. My original argument in all of this was that being against railroads because they never turn a profit is a straw-man. Roads and highways don’t make a profit either; nor do I expect them to; and, by the way, I am (generally) happy to pay for them.

There are many reasons to be against government participation in a large scale rail system, but the profitability one is a spurious fabrication.

ss396 on April 25, 2011 at 8:33 AM

whbates on April 24, 2011 at 11:23 PM

Pretty much. The important part is that the money spent on roads is tied to the usage of them (even if imperfectly). A subsidy is more or less when you fund something by extracting money from it’s competition.
Though I would be all for doing away with the gas tax and privatizing the roads. The technology probably isn’t that far off to allow individual segments of road to be owned an maintained by private interests with the ability to set transit charges (even ones that change depending on time of day), while each car would have the ability to find the cheapest rout to your destination.

Count to 10 on April 25, 2011 at 8:35 AM

Count to 10 on April 25, 2011 at 8:35 AM

In Montgomery County Maryland, they’ve finally (after about 4 decades of talking) finished a section of the Inter-County Connector. I hear they’ve decided to make it a toll road—with no toll collectors! To ride on it you must have a transponder.

So the technology for usage fees for all roads, government and private, definitely exists. Would I welcome it? No. I think building and maintaining the roadways is a legitimate function of government, like national defense, and I find toll roads an abomination, with or without toll takers.

But, as they say, YMMV.

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 25, 2011 at 9:37 AM

Obama announced his intention to spend tens of billions of dollars in catching up to China and Europe in subsidizing the rail lines and systems for high-speed transport.

Seems his ministry has run up $271 billion in debt — roughly five times the level that bankrupted General Motors. But ticket sales can’t cover debt service that will total $27.7  billion in 2011 alone. Safety concerns also are cropping up.

Well, that is one promise that OBama kept! He even out did the chinese and built up trillions of debt. The only part he didn’t keep was building a railroad.

I will be all for high speed rail when Air Froce One become High Speed Train One!!

jeffn21 on April 25, 2011 at 9:38 AM

People like the idea of mass transit. But they never actually use it themselves. Maybe they’ll take a train trip once. But that’s not really enough to pay for a new high-speed rail line, is it?

hawksruleva on April 25, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Though I would be all for doing away with the gas tax and privatizing the roads.

This can be a mixed blessing where it has been tried.

In France, most local roads are maintained by “departmental” or regional governments, but most of the “autoroutes” (limited-access highways with a speed limit of 130 km/h = 83 miles/hour) are privately-owned toll roads. Private companies wanting to build a toll road need to submit feasibility studies to the government (anticipated traffic, time savings relative to existing roads, availability of land for construction), then sell bonds to finance construction, which are then reimbursed by tolls over a period ranging from 15 to 30 years.

French autoroutes do tend to be well-maintained, although tolls are rather expensive, on the order of 20 cents per mile, so that low-income people will sometimes drive long distances on free roads, sacrificing time to save money. Autoroutes are also very congested during vacation times, sometimes with massive traffic jams extending tens of miles behind toll booths at the end of an autoroute leading to popular vacation destinations. In such situations, it can be convenient to have government-run parallel roads, which can sometimes be faster despite frequent stop lights and traffic circles.

There have been some examples of successful government/private cooperation in France, notably for bridges in congested areas. In many cases, the government will sell bonds to finance the construction of a bridge (by private contractors), then charge tolls until the bonds are paid off, after which passage across the bridge becomes free. Such a model could work here…IF the government can be trusted to take down the toll booths once the bonds are paid off, and not continue to gouge the population to finance OTHER boondoggles…

A big IF…

Steve Z on April 25, 2011 at 10:21 AM

There are many reasons to be against government participation in a large scale rail system, but the profitability one is a spurious fabrication.

ss396 on April 25, 2011 at 8:33 AM

Then how about this one…

If I decide to use the highway system, I pay the gas tax. I also pay other taxes to support it. This is a required function of the Federal Government, in the US Constitution (“post roads”). I should pay to support it.

If I decide to use a rail system, I should pay taxes/fees to support it. It is NOT a required function of the Federal Government, since it is NOT in the US Constitution. If I don’t use it, not one dime of either my personal or tax money should go toward it. Period.

Get the difference?

And since we know that high speed rail cannot support itself financially, it will be a massive financial disaster.

By what reasoning should we support the throwing away of our money on a massively expensive project that has no chance of success, when our country is nearly bankrupt? And why in the world would we use our limited funds on something that will generate reoccurring costs for decades to come?

Can you think of a better example of “stuck on STUPID”? I can’t…

dominigan on April 25, 2011 at 10:55 AM

None of us should be surprised at the failure of China’s high-speed rail, but we’d better all learn a lesson from it. Nineteenth-century transportation systems are not the answer for our transportation infrastructure, especially when air service is faster, cheaper, much more flexible, and self-supporting. We need to stop the federal government from attempting these social engineering projects and focus on spending reductions.

High-speed rail may have its place in our infrastructure, because trains consume less energy per passenger-mile than planes or cars, but it has to be cost-effective, and run by private companies willing to do an honest market analysis before sinking billions into building high-speed railroads.

As Ed pointed out, we should learn from experiences in Europe with high-speed rail. France, for example, has used high-speed rail (TGV) for over 20 years, but there are only three high-speed rail lines in the country: Paris-Lyon-Marseille, Paris-Le Mans-Bordeaux, and Paris-Strasbourg.

The TGV travels at a cruising speed of about 300 km/h (180 mph), but it requires specialized track, with only very gentle curves and slope, and no grade crossings (which requires building many bridges and tunnels over/under existing crossroads). This means that high-speed rail is only economically feasible through relatively flat and sparsely-populated areas (which also tend to attract agriculture), but in order to attract ridership, it must be between densely populated cities.

A private investor looking at high-speed rail needs to wonder: what would incite a person to ride a high-speed train? Possibly to get from downtown city A to downtown city B faster than in a plane or in a car. A train traveler has to go to a train station, and sacrifices the flexibility of having a car at the destination, so the train needs to be much faster than a car. Planes are faster than trains, but there is the inconvenience of taking cabs to airports and being frisked, so a train could be faster for cities less than about 400 miles apart.

Realistically, a high-speed passenger train is only economically viable between two densely-populated cities, separated by about 200 to 400 miles of flat, sparsely-populated terrain. There are SOME combinations of American cities that fit the bill, such as Houston/Dallas or Chicago/Saint Louis, but such decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis WITHOUT Federal mandate. It would be ludicrously expensive to try to force high-speed rail on LA/San Francisco (intervening terrain much too mountainous), or on the DC/Philly/NYC/Boston corridor (intervening terrain too congested).

If the Federal Government wants to promote high-speed rail between cities in two different states, it should limit itself to funding feasibility studies, and if the projects are found to be unfeasible, billions of taxpayer dollars would be saved! As for cities in the same state, such as Houston/Dallas or LA/SF, couldn’t the STATE Governments determine whether it’s worth doing?

Steve Z on April 25, 2011 at 11:16 AM

DarkCurrent,

Your point is well taken. Appreciated. My focus however is on a national scale rather than a city by city comparison. Shanghai in many ways is an improved city. Greatly I am sure! But if we focus on both countries as a whole, I think my comment on China stands up to scrutiny pretty well. Moreover, Shanghai had room for much improvement and so the only way to go perhaps was up. You will agree that Tokyo in 1990 was already extremely well-developed so no radical improvement was necessary. The standards of the two cities and rapidity of development are a story of different histories and timelines.

So, if one travels outside of Shanghai, how are those standards in your view? Better than Japan? Even so is Shanghai really more livable than Tokyo? Or truly even, then?

If Shanghai is a boiling cauldron of growth, then maybe Tokyo is glacial but with reason….

Well, I have heard a lot of good things about Shanghai, so better I visit myself in the near future……

Sherman1864 on April 25, 2011 at 6:47 PM

So, if one travels outside of Shanghai, how are those standards in your view? Better than Japan? Even so is Shanghai really more livable than Tokyo? Or truly even, then?

If Shanghai is a boiling cauldron of growth, then maybe Tokyo is glacial but with reason….

Well, I have heard a lot of good things about Shanghai, so better I visit myself in the near future……

Sherman1864 on April 25, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Certainly China overall has a much lower quality of infrastructure than Japan or the US. My point was that while that’s true, China’s is generally quickly improving (Shanghai just an example), while that of Japan and the US are stagnant at best.

If you come to Shanghai, let’s have a beer!

DarkCurrent on April 25, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Rahmulus,

To not see the infrastructure changes in China is crazy.

–In no place did I state I did not note infrastructure changes in China. Non-starter.

They are spending 70 billion on airports over the next 3 or 4 years alone. We spent $787 on what again…I honestly couldn’t tell you.

–Because they need to spend the money and a lot of it.
I don’t know where your wife goes but it must be out in the boonies..
–Actually she goes to several areas including Dailan and the area adjacent to Hong Kong. I admit I need to get me to a map room more often. However, one point I would like to make is that even the boonies as you call them are safely and reliably accessable in Japan. Of course I am also referring to safe navigable roads. She has traveled widely and I have every reason to trust her judgement regarding several countries to which she has made repeated visits. Primarily Asian destinations.
Sure they have a long way to go but that really isn’t the point. There goal is Singapore, that is there model. And they are moving fast towards that goal.
–Here you have educated me. Thank you. I take your word that the ideal is Singapore. But I do see difficulty in China becoming a Singapore (infrastructurally) writ very very large.

NOTHING works right in that country including all means of public transportation.

That is just exaggeration.
–I admit I engaged in hyperbole. You got me there! Point well-taken!
Ok, she doesn’t like China, everyone who lives here can understand that but that is just nonsense.
At this point you are stating nonsense for how can you possible know anything in such detail about my wife? Pretty ridiculous statement actually. But I do not take offense at comments of any type. Not worth the time.

Every train I’ve been on (maybe 50 one way journeys) has been to the second…on time.
To the second?? Now that IS exaggeration! It can be done, I agree, but who checks to the second?? Come now!

The subways in Shanghai and Guangzhou are massive and on time.
–I will accept your word on that for now and verify later by doing some checking myself.

Flights have delays but what part of the world don’t they?
–This is a kind of red herring statement on your part. Whoever said there are not delays around the world? But I would submit there are more of them in China and the average delay time is much higher than Japan or the US for that matter.

Hong Kong had a hundred years of British planning and Taipei was wild west when I first went there 20 years ago. Taipei’s transformation really happened in the past 10 years.
Yes, and my wife`s expression shows much less fatigue in the case of visits to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Perhaps, as I say above, the time for me to visit China and see for myself is ripe. I am not an unreasonable person and I am always convinced by reality.

Yes, China can be difficult, there are “Chinese fire drills” daily and it can be maddening place. But they get where they are going in their own way.

Yep, looks like you guys have convinced me to visit the place and see for myself. The above statement is quite reasonable in my view.

And for that, I thank you.

(If you both you and DarkCurrent will send some cash, I would gladly accept it and be on my way to the place. As it is I will get there as soon as I can. Need to save up a bit first . . . .)

Sherman1864 on April 25, 2011 at 7:31 PM

Sherman1864 on April 25, 2011 at 7:31 PM

I’ve changed my username below to point to my FB profile. If you do come to China, I’d like buy you a pint and hear your observations.

DarkCurrent on April 25, 2011 at 8:15 PM

Sherman,

You are right, you never said that. I think I started out trying to address the “China is incompetent and corrupt therefore we can ignore it” vibe I was getting from the comments and then veered more towards you. The corruption is very real of course but we don’t know the long term success of the high speed rail, which we will have to wait another 10-20 years for the results. Just because there is corruption doesn’t mean it won’t eventually work.

The elevated track in Taipei had the exact same problem with bad cement. It was a French train and system but the Taiwanese built the pillars. They had to reinforce the pillars which took an additional year.

Yes, they have to spend on infrastructure but I think they are really starting to go beyond basic need. In Xiamen, they have an excellent airport; it’s actually my favorite airport. It’s not fancy or shiny; it’s big enough to have most of the flights I need but small enough to be easy. Plus, I used to take a taxi along the coast to get there and it was a pleasant, hassle free trip to the airport. Now, since they made massive tunnels through the small mountains in the center of the island it takes half the time. You couldn’t make those tunnels in the US.

But now they are going to start a new airport. They are going to use a very small island as the base and use land reclamation to build a very large airport two miles out to sea. An undersea tunnel will connect the airport and the island. You couldn’t build that airport in the US.

As far as travel goes when you move into the interior in China I agree with your wife. I would much rather travel in Japan, not so much Taiwan because the truckers still drive like lunatics.

You are right, I don’t know if your wife likes China but that whole frowning bit allowed me to jump to that conclusion. If she doesn’t like China, I don’t disagree, I can’t stand China sometimes and am relieved to get back to civilization.

As far as the train on time thing goes it wasn’t an exaggeration. I was traveling back and forth between Guangzhou and Shenzhen often for about six months. I wasn’t writing anything down but I never noticed a delay (I’m sure they happen of course). Trains can depart on the second. The station manger blows his all clear whistle precisely at the departure time and off you go. And they are running many trains a day, I think 1 about every 20 minutes.

Give it a try sometime if you are in Hong Kong. Guangzhou is a massive city and it’s about 2 hours away, so it could be a day trip. I don’t particularly like it but it’s worth a look.

Rahmulus on April 25, 2011 at 10:27 PM

DarkCurrent, an amicable beer summit is quite welcome. As is FB info…perhaps just perhaps you will make a China hand out of me yet. Ever read ‘The Man who Loved China’? Bet you have! Great book!

Rhamulus, again you supply much welcome first-hand educational stuff.

Result of above: China must be visited by one Sherman1864!

Regards to you both….

Sherman1864 on April 26, 2011 at 3:59 PM

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