NPR Marketplace Segment on China HSR

Jun 30th, 2011 | Posted by

I had a (very) brief appearance on NPR Marketplace’s Morning Report segment – you can listen to it here. The topic was China’s new Beijing to Shanghai HSR route which opened today to apparently rave reviews.

The segment is short and so only a snippet of our discussion was included, where I trash Congress for not stepping up to fund HSR in the US. I did mention that California voters showed more vision and leadership than Congress when they approved Prop 1A in 2008, and that the public supports high speed rail.

China understands that high speed rail – and sustainable transportation more broadly – is essential to 21st century prosperity. And I liked my closing line, which I came up with on the fly, that “if you don’t invest in your future, you’re not going to have one.”

  1. Reality Check
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 11:29
    #1

    China HSR: why 300 km/h is the right speed for now

    If China succeeds with its high speed rail system, even more if it can sell it abroad, it will be a huge blow against the false claim that China can only produce low end products and does not have the potential to compete in high tech […]

    There is no basis for claims by foreign competitors that the reduced speed is due to safety fears […]

    But there are good reasons not to run trains at their maximum speed. Most importantly costs rise rapidly at high speeds. Increasing a train’s speed by 10 percent increases its operational costs by far more than 10 percent. And that translates into higher ticket prices.

    The most serious problem facing China’s high speed trains is not safety, for which there have been no significant problems, but the ticket price –- an economic question […]

    joe Reply:

    I’m old enough to remember when the phrase “Made in Japan” was said after something cheap broke.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Joe

    > I’m old enough to remember when the phrase “Made in Japan” was said after something cheap broke.

    You must be really really old then, because “Made In Japan” meant high-quality by 1970s.

    joe Reply:

    Sony really led the change (IMHO) with their Trinitron Color TV technology but for Japan goods in general, the perception changed in the early 70s. YMMV.

    jimsf Reply:

    “You must be really really old then, because “Made In Japan” meant high-quality by 1970s”

    Uh excuse me but I remember those comments very well and they were common in the 70s and I am not “really old” as you put it.

    Useless Reply:

    @ jimsf

    > Uh excuse me but I remember those comments very well and they were common in the 70s and I am not “really old” as you put it.

    I use to browse old magazines at the university library, including 60s and 70s.

    By 70s, the perception of Japanese quality was firmly established, and American cars were competing against Japanese on price(Because Japanese car quality was better). Heck, I remember an old ad of Dodge-badged Mitsubishi coupe, which had “Quality” in Kanji and English “Quality” subtitle below, meaning American consumers perceived that “Japan-ness” meant quality.

    The legendary Sony Walkman and Beta VCRs were the product of the 70s.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    … but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that China and Japan are just the same thing in different stages of development, and therefore China will follow exactly the same route Japan did. Chinese and Japanese culture and society are very different (despite the historically huge influence of China on Japan), as is the historical context in which they’re developing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    On the other hand the Chinese have been making high quality, high tech goods for centuries. Finest ceramics came from China until the West figured out how to do it. Oriental rugs, silk… tea…

    joe Reply:

    IMHO a disadvantage is their surpression of internal criticism. IMHO, they’ll adapt.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Reality Check

    > even more if it can sell it abroad

    It can’t, at least not in the US and UK where the Japanese could legally challenge the transaction.

    > it will be a huge blow against the false claim that China can only produce low end products and does not have the potential to compete in high tech

    And what Chinese brand high-tech product is there? I am not aware of any. Can you name one for me?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Lenovo.
    Whole slew of them that you wouldn’t recognize because they don’t brand their goods with their own name.

    Useless Reply:

    @ adirondacker1280

    Where have you been? Lenovo is almost out of the US market now, and is now basically a China-only PC brand.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    This must come a shock to all the people running around with Thinkpads.

    Useless Reply:

    @ adirondacker12800

    > This must come a shock to all the people running around with Thinkpads.

    There aren’t too many new Thinkpad users in the states anymore. Lenovo is the brand of the past; used to be something, but not anymore.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Your expertise about the laptop market is truly astounding.

    Peter Reply:

    So, a 10.2% market share worldwide is an indication that Lenovo is a dying brand?

    Dan Reply:

    ZTE and HuaWei now dominate the cellular infrastructure (basestation) market.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Dan

    > ZTE and HuaWei now dominate the cellular infrastructure (basestation) market.

    Based on the strength of Chinese domestic market alone. And some 3rd world markets where the IP rights protection isn’t strong and where these Chinese vendors don’t have to pay royalties.

    Joey Reply:

    You don’t save much time by going faster than 300 anyway. Unless you’ve got a REALLY long segment of track with such high speeds.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Joey

    > You don’t save much time by going faster than 300 anyway. Unless you’ve got a REALLY long segment of track with such high speeds.

    Beijing-Shanghai corridor is one such corridor. 300~400 km distance between each stop.

    Joey Reply:

    Might even need to be longer than that. I remember seeing some calculations saying that the difference between 300 and 350 in the Central Valley would save a trivial amount of time.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The headline travel time at 350 was 3:58, for nonstop trains. It’s now 4:48, for trains making one intermediate stop at Nanjing. But both numbers are rhetorical; look not at the fastest train of the day, but at the fastest train you can get every 1-2 hours, and the current travel time is 4:55. This should not be compared with 3:58, which was for show from the beginning, but with a higher number, based on the stop penalty for Nanjing and the extra minutes’ padding for most trains. Gun to head I’d guess 4:55 vs. 4:10.

    In case anyone cares, the average speed for Beijing-Shanghai in 4:55 is the same as that for Los Angeles-San Francisco in 2:38 through Pacheco. The lower top speed in China cancels out with the lack of mountain tunnels and fewer slowdowns for suburban segments.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Semi off topic, but the current edition of Hotline News (NARP) has a couple of video links on HSR in China and California:

    http://www.narprail.org/cms/index.php/hotline/more/hotline_713/

  2. James Hanson
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 13:32
    #2

    While we are on the subject of China. I would like to know how much less their System Costs them because Envionmental Impact Reports are not required. Trains are good for the envionment. Liberal law makers need to revisit the whole EIR Thing that started somewhere back in the 1970s. The Cost in dollars and time is obsene, We will never get this thing built at the rate we are going.

    Useless Reply:

    James Hanson

    > I would like to know how much less their System Costs them because Envionmental Impact Reports are not required.

    There is no regulatory hurdle in China. Nothing a “red envelop” cannot handle.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    … revisit the whole EIR Thing that started somewhere back in the 1970s …

    Damn that pinko commie Dick Nixon.

    Don’t worry. You can still find libertarian wonder-lands where you’ll feel right at home.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Beijing-Shanghai PDL cost about PPP$40 million per km, which is fairly high by European standards, and not much lower than the cost projection for CAHSR.

  3. Tony D.
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 18:32
    #3

    Speaking of China; saw a tidbit last week at CNN.com about their HSR. Just plain and simply awesome! After watching the segment (also about the Beijing to Shanghai route) I thought to myself: we should just say “@#$%&* our federal government!” and go all in with the Chinese for financing and technology. We’ll never get the Tea Party A$$ h__les to pony up for infrastructure (unless of course it’s oil/highway based), so let’s say screw them and look to China to help get our project completed.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Tony D.

    > go all in with the Chinese for financing

    Maybe.

    > and technology.

    There is no such thing as Chinese HSR technology. Buying Chinese bullet train is like buying a stolen iPhone 4 for half the price at the street corner.

    > look to China to help get our project completed.

    And would you like Chinese contractors to demolish your home while you are away at work, dump industrial waste where no one’s looking, construct at 2 AM while you are sleeping, and bring in tens of thousands of Chinese labor instead of hiring Californians? That’s the secret sauce of Chinese speed. Ignore all laws and regulations, and pay off the inspectors and officials “making trouble”

    jonah Reply:

    “Bring in tens of thousands of Chinese labor”

    Who built the railroads we still use today again?

    Gianny Reply:

    and that remains the pride of many!

    Useless Reply:

    @ jonah

    > Who built the railroads we still use today again?

    So would you like to see another tens of thousands of Chinese workers in California again?

  4. joe
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 18:53
    #4

    NPR Segment on America with a short argument for rail and HSR and the high cost of traffic on California business.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/06/30/137522219/what-does-a-post-american-world-look-like

  5. Andre Peretti
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 19:23
    #5

    The Chinese are just learning that running trains for the glory of party apparatchiks is not sustainable. They have discovered the difference between maximum and optimum.
    When you increase speed, you attract more riders but you also spend more on energy and maintenance. When you reach the point when increasing the speed adds more costs than profits, then you’re going too fast. An example:
    The TGV does Marseille-Paris (470 miles) in 3 hours. It coud safely do it in less than 3 hours but the added costs would oblige the SNCF to raise fares, making it less competitive with planes.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Andre Peretti

    > The Chinese are just learning that running trains for the glory of party apparatchiks is not sustainable. They have discovered the difference between maximum and optimum.

    No, this is strictly a safety issue, because the new railway minister doesn’t want to face the firing squad for the sins of the previous one.

    You have to understand that Beijing-Shanghai HSR was a national propaganda vanity project where finance didn’t matter, whose sole purpose was to prove the greatness of China and the communist party to the world. The speed downgrade from 380 km/hr to 300 km/hr was a great loss of face that turned into Beijing-Shanghai HSR to be “ordinary”, but this had to be done because of the safety issues with the tracks and rolling stocks.

  6. Gianny
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 20:22
    #6

    Thanks to the Money the US is paying China this is what they can do in 5 yrs…. a 27 Mile Sea Bridge that could cross the English Channel.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8608279/China-opens-worlds-longest-sea-bridge.html

  7. Gianny
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 20:29
    #7

    Is the bay bridge done? How long is it taking for add 1 lane of carpool for 10 miles and few other improvements to the 405 fwy?

  8. morris brown
    Jun 30th, 2011 at 23:02
    #8

    Sac Bee:

    http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2011/06/public-relations-firm-ogilvy-q.html


    Its job performance coming under increasing scrutiny, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide is quitting its multimillion dollar contract with the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

    …….

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    And this is … bad news…Morris?????

  9. Reality Check
    Jul 1st, 2011 at 02:35
    #9

    P.R. firm in charge of selling state’s $43 billion high-speed rail project resigns

    The public relations firm making big bucks to sell the state’s $43 billion high-speed rail project quit after finding out it was about to be fired, officials disclosed Thursday […] Rail authority leaders had planned to ask the agency’s board on July 14 to fire Ogilvy and search for a new PR firm. But Ogilvy leaders apparently caught wind of the news, first circulated internally on Monday, and by Thursday morning rail authority CEO Roelof van Ark had received the firm’s resignation letter.

  10. jimsf
    Jul 1st, 2011 at 07:22
    #10

    so to my knowledge the project is mired in politics and pretty much dead or on indefinite hold, if I’m to believe the general media background buzz ( i have not been keeping up on the blog). So I give up at this point. Im just over it. Obviously Americans are not smart enough nor do they have the wherewithal to deal with reality, when it comes to planning for the future in a responsible manner and are incapable of pulling off anything of significance any more. That’s fine. I’m on vacation and decided to take the train rather than fly to socal ( btw the airfare from sfo to burbank was 400 round trip… gee whiz what of those 49 dollar one hour flight hmmmm?) so anyway I booked mom and I into a compartment on the starlight and wow, what a nice trip! I had no idea that the product I’ve been selling for years was as good as I had been telling people it was. btw, kayaking the channel islands with the seals and dolphins… I highly recommend it!!!) And the the folks in ventura are very laid back and friendly.. and oh so classic “dude the surf was gnarly yesterday” californian. It was a hoot. Then back on the San Joaquin. yes too fairly long trips but you what, very pleasant! very relaxing, The passengers on board were happy, the crews were amazingly friendly and entertaining. So I’m taking the train instead of flying down from now on and as for high speed rail. American’s don’t deserve it until they pull their heads out of their asses and join the rest of the real world.

    Peter Reply:

    That’s what you get for listening to mainstream media, who can’t bother to think on their own. Nothing has really changed on the NIMBY front, as in things are moving forward towards a ground-breaking next year in the CV.

    jimsf Reply:

    really? well wake me up the day prior and pop down there and watch it. Until then Ill just keep hitting snooze. I simply don’t believe it.

    jimsf Reply:

    I dont need to get to la that quickly anyway. Ill look on the bright side, no hsr means a worse economy which means the square state yahoos won’t be flocking here for jobs with their crazy un california lifestyles. And Id just as soon keep these real estate prices depressed for ten more years when I m ready to buy. Oh yes I have adopted the american way of thinking. ” as long as something benefits my ideology to hell with the health of the state or nation”

    do I get my ” good american” pin now?

    (yes following the start of the election season is making me lose it I mean in all my nearly 47 years I have never seen anything as ridiculous and embarrassing as what’s giong on now. I give up. I truly do.)

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Was busy elsewhere as you may have guessed–but I’m glad you got to see your product, and that you are so pleased with it.

    From this little glimpse, can you imagine what it must have been like 60 or 70 years ago?

  11. jimsf
    Jul 1st, 2011 at 07:26
    #11

    The clowns in congress + a spineless administration + an illiterate population of yahoos = the end of greatness.

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