At least 35 people killed in a Chinese high-speed rail crash–caused by lightning? This doesn’t make any sense at all. Electric rail technology is more than a hundred years old; how could China’s trains not be safeguarded against this common phenomenon?
Plus, the second train ran into the first train simply because the first train was stopped on the tracks. Hasn’t China heard of positive train control? American railroads, which typically run freight trains at around 45 mph, are required by law to implement PTC by 2015. The Chinese trains in question reach top speeds of 155 mph, and should have had positive train control installed before turning a single wheel.
No doubt Chinese leaders are asking the same questions. They have already fired three top rail officials, and knowing China it wouldn’t be surprising if someone did some jail time. Meanwhile, other bullet trains are carrying so few riders that the government is expected to terminate them. The Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, reports “that the high price of the high speed rail tickets and the related cutbacks of conventional rail service are fueling huge increases in the private bus industry.”
Just prior to the accident, a libertarian blogger pointed out, “Actually, China is an economic mess” due to its authoritarian government. All the money spent on high-speed rail is just a high-profile example of this, as it represents central planners wasting huge amounts of money (some of it embezzled) building transportation systems only a few can afford to use. Somehow, the Antiplanner doubts President Obama will point to China as a reason why America should build high-speed rail anytime soon.
Some pro-high-speed-rail editorial writers in California admit that China presents “a cautionary tale” for the Golden State. However, they quote the Antiplanner’s loyal opponent, Michael Setty, saying that the costs of California’s line could be cut in half by using existing tracks and following the I-5 right of way. The Antiplanner is dubious.
Meanwhile, back in America, Florida’s own central planners are just admitting to the public that the $1.2 billion they are about to blow on a commuter-train “will likely require millions of dollars a year to make up for operating deficits.” The article says they can raise sales taxes, divert gas taxes, or impose a $2 surcharge to local car rentals. It doesn’t mention the more usual option: cannibalizing the local bus system.
One of the big arguments for building that insanely expensive commuter train was that it would create jobs. University of California transportation expert Marty Wachs responds to this in a recent article in Access magazine. Wachs points out that “transportation investments often redistribute rather than create growth” and that the multipliers usually used by planners are based on generalized models and “could be far off for any particular expenditure.” “Simply equating any transportation investment with jobs and gains for the economy cannot remain a sound basis for public policy,” he concludes.