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. America’s most populous state and the world’s most populous country have already signed preliminary agreements on the Chinese government building bullet trains on the West Coast, with Governor Schwarzenegger hoping to visit China later this year to further develop the project.
As it stands now, the deal involves the leasing of Chinese bullet train technology to General Electric. GE claims that 80 percent of the train components would be manufactured in the US, with China providing the technical know how and the other 20 percent of parts. To build the parts, GE may convert a joint GE/Toyota plant in Fremont, California that’s currently slated for closure.
In recent years, China has outpaced the US in high-speed rail technology, and has even begun to challenge early adopters like Europe and Japan. China has already built 4,000 miles of high-speed rail at home, and will add another 1,200 miles to its system this year. Like in other rail projects initiated by the China Government, China would foot the bill for a significant portion of the construction.
Naturally, the project is far from a done deal. California is also entertaining offers from Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and Italy, and China has yet to prove it can maintain its low costs and speed production times in countries with strict labor and environmental protection laws. However, with China also proposing to connect Beijing and London with bullet trains within the next ten years, already building similar bullet train systems in Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and hoping to build similar high-speed rail routes to Germany, Iran, and the Czech Republic, China is poised to be the world’s go-to manufacturer of futuristic trains.