China’s trains

The American view of China these days is a complicated affair, one that is colored by economics and politics as the two nations try to maintain, expand or solidify their spheres of influence around the globe.

The American public sees this as evidenced by what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula, or in dealing with the civil war in Syria. We see it in the fierce economic competition between the two countries that includes strengthening and enlarging the foothold each country has within each other’s boundaries.

Yes, the relationship is quite complicated.

But there are times when Americans have to admit that the Chinese deserve considerable credit for a forward-thinking approach when it comes to a particular aspect of service to the population, one that the United States shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss.

The latest example involves public transportation.

Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that China had just opened the “world’s longest high-speed rail line” between Beijing, the nation’s capital, and Guangzhou, an important economic center to the south. What this bullet train and designated line will do is allow passengers and freight to cover the 1,428 miles between the two cities in about eight hours, with stops along the way. Before train travel had taken roughly 20 hours. It should also be noted that there won’t be just one or two trips daily on this line. The schedule says “more than 150 pairs of high-speed trains will run on the new line every day.”

You see, the Chinese have made rail transportation a priority. According to the story, “Railway is an essential part in China’s transportation system, and the government plans to build a grid of high-speed railways with four east-west lines and four north-south lines by 2020.”

If only the U.S. was willing to make such a commitment.

Unfortunately, any attempt at expanding or upgrading passenger rail service in the U.S. meets with stiff opposition, particularly from congressional Republicans. They refuse to see high-speed rail as a critical investment not just for the Northeast corridor but for the entire nation, which is perplexing. How can you not see real value in, say, a train trip between New York City and Los Angeles — a drive that now covers 2,778 miles and takes more than 41 hours — taking something closer to 16 hours by a high-speed train? Or a trip between Boston and Chicago being cut to approximately six hours?

Cynics suspect Big Oil money may have something to do with this obdurate refusal to fund better railroads.

While the Chinese-U.S. relationship may be complicated, following the lead of the Chinese — and the Japanese, and the Europeans and the British — on improved and faster train travel should be simple and compelling.

Why isn’t it?

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