Train System Comparison – A Lesson in Progress

Today I got up in Shenzhen, China at 6am. I awoke groggy eyed to a typical grey sky but relatively quiet morning, packed a couple light bags and caught the taxi to the airport.  After a quick nap and two and a half hours in the air, I arrived at the Hong qiao airport in Shanghai.  The next step was to take the train to our office in Changzhou.  I’ve been coming to Zhangjiagang and Changzhou in the Jiangsu province (northwest of Shanghai) regularly for the last eight years visiting factories and spending time in our office, and in that time the trip has transformed miraculously.

Where’s the Bus?

I first made the trip by myself about 7 years ago.  I had arrived at the airport.  There were no signs.  I had to rely on my very poor Chinese to find the bus to Zhangjiagang…say that 5 times fast!  It was located in a somewhat obscure parking lot not far from the airport exit with no signs and one attendant smoking a cigarette in a sad little room with nicotine stained walls.  I told him where I was going and he seemed to acknowledge that I was at the right place.  I could only hope.  The convenient part was that it was a straight shot…the downside was that the shot took about 5 hours.  The bus was not in bad condition, but certainly didn’t have the comforts of high quality living.

The Fast Train

Fast forward three years later and the government had turned around a series of high speed rail lines to and from Shanghai to most of the major cities within a few hundred miles.  These are the “D” trains.  At first it was a little difficult to get one, they were often full, but after about a year you would usually only have to wait an hour or so once you bought your ticket to most destinations.  The D trains got up to about 100 mph and cut my journey to Zhangjiagang down from five hours to less than three.  I thought I was living the high life.  One time I even found an outlet on the train so I could keep doing work after my computer battery had died.  What a country!

Zie Uber Fast Train

China High Speed Train Map

China High Speed Train Map

Now, here I am, another four years later and the system has taken another quantum leap forward.  You still have to be able to say Zhangjiagang correctly, but once you’ve got that down, you’re sitting by my side here going a full 330 kph (about 200mph) on one of the cleanest trains I’ve ever seen.  They go so frequently that you hardly ever need to wait more than an hour if you buy your ticket at the station and they move roughly 500-1200 people at a time.  Soon they will be connected all over the north, east, and south regions of China, where the vast majority of people live.

One Ticket to LA Please

While all this has been going on, there has been a lot of talk about a fast train the US between LA and San Francisco.  When I was growing up in Las Vegas, there was a lot of talk about a fast train between Las Vegas and LA.  Thirty years later, there’s a lot more talk, but I’ll be amazed if I can actually buy a ticket to LA from either of these cities on a fast train in the next fifteen years.

So, what’s the difference?  How can China, with less GDP than the US, possibly make such drastic improvements to their infrastructure when it seems nearly possible in California?  To be continued…

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