Today in grandiose space ambitions that would make even Newt Gingrich balk: a $60 billion, 1,000-mile long, 12-mile high, 20,000-miles-per-hour maglev train that starts on the ground and arrives in low Earth orbit. The minds behind the Startram project think it could reduce the cost per kilo (that’s like 2.2 pounds American) for cargo from roughly $10,000 to just $50.
Just three years after breaking ground, China will open the crown jewel of its high-speed rail network to the public this week. The 186 mile per hour (and that's regular operating speed) Beijing-Shanghai link takes just four hours and 48 minutes to traverse 820 miles of Chinese countryside.
Last year, China laid out a plan to extend its high speed rail network all the way to Germany and London to the West and down to Singapore to the south by 2020. And naturally the Internet chorus called it politically untenable and economically unfeasible, a pie-in-the-sky project from an overly ambitious regime.
If you're going to build the world's biggest megatropolis in the world's most populous country, you don't start from scratch. You take nine existing population centers and merge them. At least, that's the thinking behind the "Turn the Pearl River Delta Into One" initiative, which aims to do exactly that.
Nothing makes you wish for a high-speed rail, a flying car, or a teleportation device like having to travel over Thanksgiving. Apparently, the future of chaos-free commuting is in Europe, Japan and China, where passengers enjoy the luxury of trains that glide along at 200 miles per hour. Meanwhile, those of us living in America get to choose between radioactive scanners, enhanced pat-downs, and the joy of holiday highway congestion. Injustice! Suffice to say, our maglev train envy is making the spirit of Thanksgiving a little harder to grasp this year.
The push for high-speed rail in America is picking up speed -- it's just happening really, really slowly. Yesterday, efforts to connect American cities with new high-speed passenger rail links received a shot in the arm to the tune of $2.4 billion in federal funding for 54 projects in 23 states. And while it's not even close to enough to push America's rail system toward the modern railways linking Asian and European cities, it is a baby step in the right direction.
China, already outpacing the U.S., Japan and many European countries in the expansion of their railway system, has begun testing an even faster high-speed train, clocking in at 258.86 miles per hour during a trial run on Tuesday.
The new train will operate between Shanghai and Hangzhou, the capital of East China’s Zhejiang province, and is expected to start regular service next month October.
The US has looked to China for help building railroads ever since Chinese laborers laid down the tracks for the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. Now, California hopes a partnership with the Middle Kingdom can do for 21st Century high-speed rail what that far less pleasant 19th Century "partnership" did for the Transcontinental Railroad.
Chinese rail passengers already zip between cities on trains traveling three times faster than the average train in the States, and a 217-mph line linking Wuhan and Guangzhou will soon be the fastest train on Earth. But not content with screaming-fast trains linking cities within its borders, China now plans to extend its high-speed network all the way to London with a rail line that will fly through 17 countries at speeds reaching 200 miles per hour.