China’s push to develop high-speed rail lines was meant to relieve the congestion of China’s existing rail system. The idea was that it would make available lower-end capacity of conventional trains to handle more freight. In turn, this would relieve the stress on roads. It was supposed to move passengers off of slow trains and onto fast trains. Instead, it has moved passengers from slow trains to buses, and from planes to fast trains.
…[R]ather than trying to divert passenger traffic to high-speed rail, China should focus on the (far less glamorous) task of improving and expanding its intermodal freight system — using the U.S., in part at least, as a model. That involves not just laying more conventional track, but also building the support infrastructure to make more efficient use of that track, especially in China’s underpenetrated interior.
This reminded me that Warren Buffet has invested quite heavily in rail, having bought (with $26 billion) majority control of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway:
Buffett chuckles at the suggestion that buying the nation’s second-biggest railroad is a sign of senility. He argues that railroads represent the future. They’re best-positioned to haul the raw material and finished goods for a nation and economy that he insists are bound to grow. Unlike trucks, trains don’t have to compete on congested highways. Nor do railroads depend on strapped governments to maintain infrastructure.
“They don’t need the government to build them new highways and airports,” he says in an interview with USA TODAY. “They’ve already invested heavily in their infrastructure and technology, and they plan to invest more to keep up with the growing demand.
Not everything China does is necessarily smarter or more forward thinking.