China’s Failed “High” Speed Rail – An Update

Yesterday, I reported on a New York Times story that said a high-speed rail service in China’s Fujian province had failed due to competition from air. After querying this further with our contacts in China (with credit due to the intrepid Wendell Cox), we discoverd the service that was taken off line was not true high-speed, but a higher speed conventional rail service. So, the Times (and Associated Press) apparently erred in its reporting.

That said, the point is still relevant to the discussion in the United States. Most of the federal funding for so-called “high-speed” rail is in fact moderate-speed rail as my colleague Bob Poole has noted over and over again. Trains in the U.S. will reach speeds of 110 mph, not the 150 mph considered the minimum threshold for true high-speed rail service.

China relies heavily on rail to move people across its vast continent. Rail serves a broad customer base of moderate income households and passengers with low personal mobility. Simply speeding up conventional rail apparently doesn’t work in China when faster and increasingly cost effective alternatives are available to reach the growing middle class.