Americans could one day soon cruise between two major cities in the western US on a mega-fast train at 150 mph, thanks to a new agreement between a private US venture and a consortium led by China Railway Group.
It will be called XpressWest, and it will link the 230 miles separating Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The train will get you there in 80 minutes, versus a four-hour car ride. Construction's set to kick off next September, and comes on the heels of four years of negotiations. It's China's first high-speed rail project in the US, and Bloomberg reports that $US100 million in initial capital will get the project off the ground. (Though that will be just a teeny drop in the bucket -- the project is expected to cost upwards to $US7 billion). To date, only private sector funds have covered the bill, but the project's applied for loans with the Federal Railroad Administration.
The cost, benefits, and logistics of setting up speed demon trains in the sprawling US has sparked huge amounts of debate. Proponents of high-speed rail say it will create jobs and bring American infrastructure and technology up to speed (so to speak) with those nations. Opponents either don't want construction in their area, or think it's a waste of money, or think that high-speed rail doesn't make sense in a big, spread out country like America. Meanwhile, supporters counter that high-speed rail is designed to link metros that are both large and close, like Boston to DC -- not Missoula to Tampa.
Regardless, this agreement could bring at least one high-speed rail project closer to reality. Other advanced economies, like Japan, Germany, and France, have been running systems of their own for decades. Japan, for example, debuted its bullet trains way back in 1964.
In fact, China isn't the only Asian country looking to bring its style of high-speed rail stateside. Earlier this year, we reported on two major high-speed rail plans already in motion in the US: A private venture in Texas that proposes linking Dallas and Houston -- two of America's fastest-growing urban centres -- with a replica of Japan's famed shinkansen, or bullet train. Meanwhile, California officially started rail construction on its own high-speed rail project in January, despite having not yet chosen a country's trains to model its system on.
China, which overtook Japan as the world's second largest economy in 2010, has been operating high-speed rail since 2004, and even has the world's longest-running maglev train in Shanghai. Last year, China signed a $US567 million deal to bring regular-speed trains to Boston, marking China's first rail deal in America. We'll see wait and see how far the XpressWest project goes, and how Americans will respond to it.
Image via XpressWest