East-West Question | Short Comment: Why has the US failed to develop high-speed rail so far?
(Essential questions) Short comment: Why has the US failed to develop high-speed rail so far?
China News Service, Beijing, September 12th. Question: Why has the United States failed to develop high-speed rail?
At the end of August, the U.S. House of Representatives Through President Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, including a $66 billion railway network investment fund. Whether this plan can bring development opportunities to the US high-speed rail has become a topic of concern for some US media, and Chinese netizens have also discussed this.
As an important construction achievement of modern rail transit, high-speed rail is adopted by many countries in the world. As of the end of 2020, the total mileage of high-speed rail in the world has exceeded 54,000 kilometers, and countries such as China, Japan, France, Germany, Spain, and Turkey have established relatively complete high-speed rail transportation systems. In contrast, the only active high-speed rail in the United States is the Asira Express on the “Northeast Corridor.” Why has the US, which has the world’s largest GDP, failed to develop high-speed rail? There are many factors behind it.
First of all, historical reasons create In the modern passenger transportation pattern dominated by road transportation in the United States, high-speed rail needs to adapt to the existing urban model. After World War II, the then-U.S. President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Funding Act and started construction of an interstate highway. The highway network has increasingly become the main way to connect the urban landscape of the United States, and the United States has become the “country on wheels.” The construction of high-speed railways not only faces start-up projects such as track laying and train manufacturing, but also solves the problem of mismatch with existing urban layout factors such as land, population, and buildings, such as how to avoid relatively densely populated residential areas. At the same time, the existing rail network in the United States is difficult to empower high-speed rail. American railroads are mostly owned by freight companies. These companies are unwilling to upgrade their railways to high-speed because freight does not require high train speeds. The only way for high-speed rail to open to traffic is to build new rails.
Secondly, there have always been disputes in the American society over whether to build a high-speed rail, and the building of a high-speed rail lacks a solid foundation for public opinion. Opponents argued that the geographical condition of a large area and sparsely populated area is not suitable for the United States to build long-term high-speed rail. The advanced aviation and the convenience of automobiles make the high-speed rail non-U.S. necessary. Supporters believe that places along the west coast of the United States and the east coast have populations and distances between cities that are suitable for high-speed rail. High-speed rail is less carbon and environmentally friendly and saves time in some areas. According to statistics from the American High Speed Rail Association, from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles, it takes a total of 5 hours and 20 minutes for air passenger transportation and car commuting on both ends, and 3 hours and 10 minutes for high-speed rail.
Again, there are also institutional reasons. Making ends meet has become an important obstacle to the construction of high-speed rail in the United States.
One, the private ownership of land in the United States increases the cost of high-speed rail construction. The high-speed rail line requires a large enough turning radius and will inevitably pass through private land. The U.S. federal government only owns 28% of the country’s land. Land acquisition and demolition are time-consuming and costly, and if the negotiation fails, the route must be changed. Some companies on the California high-speed rail planned route refused to relocate, and the engineering team had to detour to relocate more than 3 kilometers of railways, with an additional expenditure of about 300 million U.S. dollars.
At the same time, the United States lacks high-speed rail A stable source of funding. Often the Democrats support investment and the Republicans oppose construction. Therefore, high-speed rail projects under construction may be stranded due to the replacement of leaders. At the same time, the Koch Brothers, Ford and other oil and automobile industry groups, in order to profit from fossil fuels, tend to fund conservative think tanks and political factions, which affects the high-speed rail to obtain investment. For private individuals, a long investment return period greatly reduces their enthusiasm. The environmental review of the Bright Line Railway between Southern California and Las Vegas took more than 6 years, and the original investor eventually divested. The construction process of New York’s Second Avenue subway line has spanned a century, and the efficiency of US infrastructure development can also be glimpsed.
The U.S. has not been able to develop high-speed rail so far. It is inseparable from multiple factors such as historical origins, practical needs, interest cutting, and social consensus. In the future, whether the U.S. high-speed rail can achieve a breakthrough depends at least on whether the federal and state governments can coordinate the demands of all parties and form a relatively consistent opinion plan. (End)