Building Train Sets Doesn’t Make Us Rich: Chinese Bullet Trains Run Empty
I KNOW, I know, I bang on about this, but it really is true, building faster train sets really doesn’t make us richer:
No passenger was seen in the whole carriage of a high-speed train on the Beijing-Shanghai line on July 3rd 2011. It has been reported that the high-speed rail service recently suffered a plunge in ticket sales, with trains running at less than 30 percent occupancy in the first- and second-class seats and with business-class carriages almost empty.
Brand new and empty trains rolling across the Chinese countryside at any speed are not useful infrastructure nor are they an addition to wealth.
They’re just a few thousand tonnes of wasted steel being shunted about and increasing emissions to boot.
There are times and places where trains sets are absolutely essential: you can’t get to the sort of urban density of London or Manhattan without a tube or commuter railway system. But other than that, over a few hundred miles flying is better and amazingly, coach travel is less polluting than train travel up to those sorts of distances.
Trains are great for freight too: for people, they’re really 19th century technology and those arguing for them little more than frustrated train spotters who’ve only partially passed the puberty that makes other things more interesting.