- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez published an outline of her “Green New Deal” on Thursday, an ambitious plan to turn the US carbon-neutral in 10 years. One element of her proposal is the use of high-speed rail in the US.
- China has the largest high-speed railway in the world, with 15,500 miles of track and most major cities covered by the network.
- In May, I took China’s fastest “G” train from Beijing to the northwestern city of Xi’an, which cuts an 11-hour journey — roughly the distance between New York and Chicago — to 4.5 hours.
- I found the experience delightful, with relatively cheap tickets, painless security, comfortable seats, air-conditioned cabins, and plenty of legroom.
- It left me thinking about how far behind US infrastructure has become, when most comparable journeys still require expensive and tiring air travel.
On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez published an outline of her Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to tackle climate change and turn the US carbon-neutral in 10 years. One element of her proposal is overhauling the public transportation systems to limit pollution, including the use of high-speed rail in the US.
To get an idea of what high-speed rail can mean for a country, we may want to look to China.
Traveling to China can often feel like visiting the future. The cities stretch out for what seems like forever, while new skyscrapers, bridges, and futuristically designed landmarks spring up every year.
Nowhere is this feeling more apparent than when you encounter China’s high-speed railway network. At 15,500 miles, the country’s “bullet train” is the world’s largest.
And it’s getting larger.
The China Railway Corp., the country’s government-owned train operator, is getting close to finishing the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, a high-speed rail line spanning more than 80 miles. And the country’s plan is to create an extended network that covers 24,000 miles and connects all cities with a population greater than 500,000.
Currently, there are over 100 cities in China with a population greater than 1 million, a figure projected to grow to 221 cities by 2025.
The practical result of this is that you can pretty much travel in anywhere in China via high-speed rail. It’s usually comparable in speed to air travel (once you factor in security lines and check-in) and far more convenient, as I found on a trip to China.
In May, I had made plans to travel from Beijing to Xi’an, the capital of northwestern Shaanxi province and the imperial capital of China for centuries.
The distance between the two cities is around 746 miles, making it slightly more than two hours by plane, 11 hours by car, and anywhere between 11.5 hours and 17.5 hours on a regular train.
On China’s top-of-the-line “bullet train,” the journey takes 4.5 hours.
If I wanted to travel a comparable distance in the US by train — at 712 miles, New York to Chicago is the closest — it would take 22 hours, with a transfer in Washington, DC. And that’s with traveling on Amtrak’s Acela Express, currently the fastest train in the US with a speed up to 214 km/h (150 mph).
Traveling on one of China’s fastest bullet trains is an entirely different experience:
I arrived at Beijing West Railway station a little over an hour before my train at 2:00 p.m. Built in 1996 and expanded in 2000, the railway station is the second largest in Asia, serving up to 400,000 people a day. It was very busy when I arrived.
China’s railway network served nearly 3 billion passenger rides in 2016, a figure that has increased by about 10% each year. It’s little surprise. The nationwide system covers 15,500 miles, a figure made more impressive when you consider the first line was built in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics.
China’s first high-speed rail line was a single 70-mile demonstration line built specifically for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
The country has set aside $550 billion in its current five-year plan (2016-2020) for expanding China’s railway system, with an emphasis on high-speed rail.
The massive development plan hasn’t all gone smoothly. The country’s top economic planning agency found that many cities and provinces were building far too expensive and ostentatious train stations far from city centers in an effort to get in on the development extravaganza, Beijing-based media company Caixin reported earlier this month.
One railway expert told Caixin that local governments have been developing the stations far from city centers in the hopes that the facilities, which they want to link with the high-speed rail, can boost development and real-estate prices.
I had bought my rail ticket on CTrip, China’s top e-travel agency. But for some reason, you still have to pick up your ticket in person if you are a foreigner, which requires navigating to the ticket lines and finding the one counter designated for English speakers. If there’s one aspect of the high-speed rail system that could be improved, it’s ditching hard tickets for e-tickets. But, knowing China’s obsessive adoption of mobile phones and QR codes, I’m sure it won’t be long.
Tip: Instead of using CTrip’s website, book your rail ticket on the company’s mobile Trip app. In November last year, CTrip acquired US online travel agency Trip.com and rebranded Trip as their global brand app.
It’s far more user-friendly than the CTrip website (Chinese tech still has a lot to learn about UX).
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez included high-speed rail in her Green New Deal. After riding China's superfast bullet train that could go from New York to Chicago in 4.5 hours, it's clear how far behind the US really is