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High-Speed Rail Goes Forward in Asia, Backward in Trans-Atlantic

March 14, 2016 (EIRNS)—China is now home to 60% of the world’s high-speed rail lines, according to the work report delivered by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the National Peoples Congress (NPC). Li said China’s railway mileage reached 121,000 kilometers, including more than 19,000 kilometers of high-speed rail; and by 2020, this total is planned to reach 30,000 kilometers, connecting 80% of the major cities.

China also already has overseas high-speed rail projects under construction, including those linking Jakarta and Bandung; Sofia, Budapest, and Belgrade; China and Laos; and China and Thailand, said Xu Shaoshi, director of the National Development and Reform Commission.

China’s high-speed trains, and Japan’s, are also very smooth-riding at 250 km/hr or more, due to preciesly engineered and inspected track. On the other hand, Europe, which was known for building high-speed rail networks in the 20th Century, has largely stopped making investments. Germany’s system has suffered from lack of maintenance and track deterioration, so that its ride now has more high vibration, even at 200 km/hr, than high speed. France and Spain are only somewhat better. And in the UK, plans for an HS2 high-speed train may be abandoned due to the lack of commitments to invest enough to overcome the tendency for strong vibrations, as has been done in Asia.

Still worse, American passenger trains are kept below 160 km/hr and are still subject to potentially fatal derailments, due to the lack of any special high-speed track at all. On March 13, some 32 people were hospitalized—two critically—after eight of the nine cars on an Amtrak train from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in rural Kansas at about 120 km/hr, with four cars tipping over. The terrain was flat, the weather good. According to a government official cited in media reports, the injuries could have been worse, had not an engineer noticed a "significant bend" in the rail in front of him and immediately applied the emergency brakes.

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