High-speed rail doesn't make sense in China, either

Jiang/Wikimedia Commons

Passengers sleep and sit in interior of high speed rail

Article Highlights

  • My pet peeve is high-speed rail @MichaelBarone

    Tweet This

  • Bargain-minded travelers don't use the Acela express or Amtrak service @MichaelBarone

    Tweet This

  • High-speed rail is an amenity for the business and professional elite; not a form of mass transportation @MichaelBarone

    Tweet This

Faithful readers know that one of my pet issues--pet peeves, really--is high-speed rail, which was the subject of one recent Examiner column and was mentioned in my most recent column Wednesday. Yes, high-speed rail might make sense in some high-density corridors connecting big cities with big downtowns, i.e., the Washington-New York-Boston corridor. But it doesn't make much sense elsewhere. I have pointed out that, with one exception, continent-sized countries like Russia, Canada and Brazil have not contemplated building high-speed rail lines except for those that would connect their two largest metropolitan areas.

"High-speed rail is an amenity for the business and professional elite; it's not a form of mass transportation." -- Michael Barone

The exception, of course, is China, which is lauded by the likes of Thomas Friedman for its supposedly far-sighted program of building a network of high-speed rail lines over most of the country. Now comes Patrick Chovanec, an American who is a professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing, with the news that high-speed rail doesn't make much sense in China either. mess. Key paragraph:

"The problem is that high-speed rail is expensive both to build and to operate, requiring high ticket prices to break even. The bulk of the long-distance passenger traffic, especially during the peak holiday periods, is migrant workers for whom the opportunity cost of time is relatively low. Even if they could afford a high-speed train ticket -- which is doubtful given their limited incomes -- they would probably prefer to conserve their cash and take a slower, cheaper train. If that proves true, the new high-speed lines will only incur losses while providing little or no relief to the existing transportation network."

We already see this phenomenon in the United States, as I mentioned in my Wednesday column. Bargain-minded travelers don't use the Acela express or cheaper Amtrak service from Washington to New York; they ride the somewhat slower but quite comfortable bus lines that are far cheaper. High-speed rail is an amenity for the business and professional elite; it's not a form of mass transportation.

Michael Barone is a Resident Fellow at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Four years of Dodd-Frank damage
image Dodd-Frank, financial institutions, and public opinion
image Time for an Anwar Sadat moment in the Middle East
image Freedom of the skies at risk
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Event Registration is Closed
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Event Registration is Closed
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.