China, High Speed Rail and Mobility
January 18, 2011
Many in the United States point to China as an example of why investment in rail transportation makes sense here. Unfortunately, that is not really the lesson from China we should learn. While it is true that China's investment in high-speed rail is making it a world leader in this technology, it is not true that this is a model that should be emulated by the United States or other developed countries, says Samuel Staley, director of urban and land use policy at the Reason Foundation.
China is investing in all forms of transportation to match unprecedented growth in income and the demand for mobility.
- In the last 20 years, China has built a national expressway network larger than the one that connects the European Union and almost equivalent of the U.S. Interstate Highway System in order to improve access between provinces and metropolitan areas.
- Air travel is also expanding rapidly -- in 2009, 166 airports were open to civilian transportation;this number is expected to increase to 260 by 2015.
So, China's investment in rail is not necessarily seen only as a substitute for other means of traveling between cities and provinces; rather it is diversifying, becoming more layered and taking advantage of the sheer scale of a national economy expected to add 400 million more people to its cities by 2025.
In a culture and economy with a history and legacy of riding trains, the high-speed component is a logical complement to the network. This is fundamentally different from the United States, where our high degree of wealth and well developed transportation infrastructure already provides an unprecedented level of mobility and access through highways and air travel, says Staley.
Source: Samuel Staley, "China, High Speed Rail and Mobility" Reason Foundation, January 13, 2011.
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