Global Expansion of High-speed Railroads Gains Steam

Interest in high-speed rail (HSR) is growing around the world and the number of countries running these trains is expected to nearly double over the next few years, according to new research by the Worldwatch Institute for Vital Signs Online. By 2014, high-speed trains will be operating in nearly 24 countries, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States, up from only 14 countries today. The increase in HSR is due largely to its reliability and ability to cover vast geographic distances in a short time, to investments aimed at connecting once-isolated regions, and to the diminishing appeal of air travel, which is becoming more cumbersome because of security concerns.

 

The rise in HSR has been very rapid—in just three years, between January 2008 and January 2011, the operational fleet grew from 1,737 high-speed trainsets worldwide to 2,517. Two-thirds of this fleet is found in just five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. By 2014, the global fleet is expected to total more than 3,700 units.

 

Not only is HSR reliable, but it also can be more friendly than cars or airplanes. A 2006 comparison of greenhouse gas emissions by travel mode, released by the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, found that HSR lines in Europe and Japan released 30–70 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometer, versus 150 grams for automobiles and 170 grams for airplanes.

 

Although there is no universal speed definition for HSR, the threshold is typically set at 250 kilometers per hour on new tracks and 200 kilometers per hour on existing, upgraded tracks. The length of HSR tracks worldwide is undergoing explosive growth in order to meet increasing demand. Between 2009 and 2011, the total length of operational track has grown from some 10,700 kilometers to nearly 17,000 kilometers. Another 8,000 kilometers is currently under construction, and some 17,700 kilometers more is planned, for a combined total of close to 43,000 kilometers. That is equivalent to about 4 percent of all rail lines—passenger and freight—in the world today.

 

By track length, the current high-speed leaders are China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany. Other countries are joining the high-speed league as well. Turkey has ambitious plans to reach 2,424 kilometers and surpass the length of Germany’s network. Italy, Portugal, and the United States all hope to reach track lengths of more than 1,000 kilometers. Another 15 countries have plans for shorter networks.

 

But in Europe, France continues to account for about half of all European high-speed rail travel. HSR reached an astounding 62 percent of the country’s passenger rail travel volume in 2008, up from just 23 percent in 1990, thanks to affordable ticket prices, an impressive network, and reliability. And in Japan, the Shinkansen trains are known for their exceedingly high degree of reliability. JR Central, the largest of the Japanese rail operating companies, reports that the average delay per high-speed train throughout a year is just half a minute. On all routes in Japan where both air and high-speed rail connections are available, rail has captured a 75 percent market share.

 

Further highlights from the research:

 

  • A draft plan for French transportation infrastructure investments for the next two decades allocates 52 percent of a total of $236 billion to HSR.
  • In 2005, the Spanish government announced an ambitious plan for some 10,000 kilometers of high-speed track by 2020, which would allow 90 percent of Spaniards to live within 50 kilometers of an HSR station.
  • Currently, China is investing about $100 billion annually in railway construction. The share of the country’s railway infrastructure investment allocated to HSR has risen from less than 10 percent in 2005 to a stunning 60 percent in 2010.
  • Intercity rail in Japan accounts for 18 percent of total domestic passenger-kilometers by all travel modes—compared with just 5 to 8 percent in major European countries and less than 1 percent in the United States.
  • In France, rail’s market share of the Paris-Marseille route rose from 22 percent in 2001 (before the introduction of high-speed service) to 69 percent in 2006. In Spain, the Madrid-Seville rail route’s share rose from 33 to 84 percent.

Global Expansion of High-speed Railroads Gains Steam

Interest in high-speed rail (HSR) is growing around the world and the number of countries running these trains is expected to nearly double over the next few years, according to new research by the Worldwatch Institute for Vital Signs Online. By 2014, high-speed trains will be operating in nearly 24 countries, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States, up from only 14 countries today. The increase in HSR is due largely to its reliability and ability to cover vast geographic distances in a short time, to investments aimed at connecting once-isolated regions, and to the diminishing appeal of air travel, which is becoming more cumbersome because of security concerns.

 

The rise in HSR has been very rapid—in just three years, between January 2008 and January 2011, the operational fleet grew from 1,737 high-speed trainsets worldwide to 2,517. Two-thirds of this fleet is found in just five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. By 2014, the global fleet is expected to total more than 3,700 units.

 

Not only is HSR reliable, but it also can be more friendly than cars or airplanes. A 2006 comparison of greenhouse gas emissions by travel mode, released by the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, found that HSR lines in Europe and Japan released 30–70 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometer, versus 150 grams for automobiles and 170 grams for airplanes.

 

Although there is no universal speed definition for HSR, the threshold is typically set at 250 kilometers per hour on new tracks and 200 kilometers per hour on existing, upgraded tracks. The length of HSR tracks worldwide is undergoing explosive growth in order to meet increasing demand. Between 2009 and 2011, the total length of operational track has grown from some 10,700 kilometers to nearly 17,000 kilometers. Another 8,000 kilometers is currently under construction, and some 17,700 kilometers more is planned, for a combined total of close to 43,000 kilometers. That is equivalent to about 4 percent of all rail lines—passenger and freight—in the world today.

 

By track length, the current high-speed leaders are China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany. Other countries are joining the high-speed league as well. Turkey has ambitious plans to reach 2,424 kilometers and surpass the length of Germany’s network. Italy, Portugal, and the United States all hope to reach track lengths of more than 1,000 kilometers. Another 15 countries have plans for shorter networks.

 

But in Europe, France continues to account for about half of all European high-speed rail travel. HSR reached an astounding 62 percent of the country’s passenger rail travel volume in 2008, up from just 23 percent in 1990, thanks to affordable ticket prices, an impressive network, and reliability. And in Japan, the Shinkansen trains are known for their exceedingly high degree of reliability. JR Central, the largest of the Japanese rail operating companies, reports that the average delay per high-speed train throughout a year is just half a minute. On all routes in Japan where both air and high-speed rail connections are available, rail has captured a 75 percent market share.

 

Further highlights from the research:

 

  • A draft plan for French transportation infrastructure investments for the next two decades allocates 52 percent of a total of $236 billion to HSR.
  • In 2005, the Spanish government announced an ambitious plan for some 10,000 kilometers of high-speed track by 2020, which would allow 90 percent of Spaniards to live within 50 kilometers of an HSR station.
  • Currently, China is investing about $100 billion annually in railway construction. The share of the country’s railway infrastructure investment allocated to HSR has risen from less than 10 percent in 2005 to a stunning 60 percent in 2010.
  • Intercity rail in Japan accounts for 18 percent of total domestic passenger-kilometers by all travel modes—compared with just 5 to 8 percent in major European countries and less than 1 percent in the United States.
  • In France, rail’s market share of the Paris-Marseille route rose from 22 percent in 2001 (before the introduction of high-speed service) to 69 percent in 2006. In Spain, the Madrid-Seville rail route’s share rose from 33 to 84 percent.

The BRIC Fallacy

China is a place with massive regional inequality. A recent feature by The Economist magazine, titled Comparing Chinese Provinces With Countries, found a stark divide between the rich coast and the poor hinderland. Some of my previous obervations about that feature can be found here. In Shanghai and Beijing GDP per person is over $20,000 (as of 2010) - roughly equivalent to a high middle-income country.

In rural Guizhou GDP per person is almost seven times lower. Guizhou is the poorest province in China. It is the part of China the media does not visit and that China tries its best to hide. There are no skyscrapers in the rural parts of Guizhou, just decrepit stone houses dating back to the Maoist era (or earlier).

But there is something else very interesting about Guizhou: as of 2010 its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in India. That is, a person living in the poorest part of China is about as well off as the typical Indian. This fact says something about the constant comparisons between China and India – China is generally far ahead.

Let’s take a look at Brazil. Brazil is a typical Third World country, in the view of many Westerners. Surprisingly, while Brazil is infamous for its massive inequality, its regional inequality is not as great as that of China’s. Nevertheless, there are still vast differences of regional wealth in Brazil. As of 2008 GDP per person in the rich Distrito Federal (of Brasilia) was $25,000; in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro the high incomes of its wealthy elite raise the number to a respectable number as well.

In contrast, almost everybody is poor in the northern coastal parts of Brazil, populated by the descendants of plantation slaves. In the northern state of Alagoas GDP per person is a mere fraction of that in the capital. Alagoas is the third-poorest state in Brazil. It is characterized by a juxtaposition of beautiful beaches and violent gangs. Favelas of ill-built wooden structures dot Alagoas.

There is something very interesting about Alagoas as well: as of 2008, its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in China. A person living in the third-poorest province of Brazil is about as well off as the typical Chinese. So much for the Chinese dragon; the typical Brazilian is far better off than the typical Chinese. And let’s not even start comparing Brazil to India.

These comparisons put a stake through the heart of the BRIC acronym: the concept that Brazil, Russia, India, and China have much in common other than their high economic growth rates. And even the assertion that all four BRIC countries are growing at high economic rates is questionable; Russia certainly isn’t right now.

Indeed, the differences between the richest member of the BRICs (Russia) and the poorest member (India) are stunning. Just look at the map at the beginning of this post; almost everybody is literate in Russia, while literacy rates in India are comparable to those in Sudan and Nigeria.

Or think about hunger. Hundreds of millions of people in India are not getting enough food to eat; India has the highest number of malnourished people in the world. In Russia, on the other hand, everybody gets enough to eat. The last time large numbers of Russians didn’t get enough food was more than half a century ago, which had something to do with a man named Hitler. Check out the difference between google results for Russian malnutrition and Indian malnutrition.

All in all, the differences between living standards and relative global power of the BRIC countries are vast. One could say that the United States and Russia have more in common than Russia and India, with respect to living standards (or many other things, in fact). BRIC is a fallacy.

--inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

 

The BRIC Fallacy

China is a place with massive regional inequality. A recent feature by The Economist magazine, titled Comparing Chinese Provinces With Countries, found a stark divide between the rich coast and the poor hinderland. Some of my previous obervations about that feature can be found here. In Shanghai and Beijing GDP per person is over $20,000 (as of 2010) - roughly equivalent to a high middle-income country.

In rural Guizhou GDP per person is almost seven times lower. Guizhou is the poorest province in China. It is the part of China the media does not visit and that China tries its best to hide. There are no skyscrapers in the rural parts of Guizhou, just decrepit stone houses dating back to the Maoist era (or earlier).

But there is something else very interesting about Guizhou: as of 2010 its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in India. That is, a person living in the poorest part of China is about as well off as the typical Indian. This fact says something about the constant comparisons between China and India – China is generally far ahead.

Let’s take a look at Brazil. Brazil is a typical Third World country, in the view of many Westerners. Surprisingly, while Brazil is infamous for its massive inequality, its regional inequality is not as great as that of China’s. Nevertheless, there are still vast differences of regional wealth in Brazil. As of 2008 GDP per person in the rich Distrito Federal (of Brasilia) was $25,000; in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro the high incomes of its wealthy elite raise the number to a respectable number as well.

In contrast, almost everybody is poor in the northern coastal parts of Brazil, populated by the descendants of plantation slaves. In the northern state of Alagoas GDP per person is a mere fraction of that in the capital. Alagoas is the third-poorest state in Brazil. It is characterized by a juxtaposition of beautiful beaches and violent gangs. Favelas of ill-built wooden structures dot Alagoas.

There is something very interesting about Alagoas as well: as of 2008, its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in China. A person living in the third-poorest province of Brazil is about as well off as the typical Chinese. So much for the Chinese dragon; the typical Brazilian is far better off than the typical Chinese. And let’s not even start comparing Brazil to India.

These comparisons put a stake through the heart of the BRIC acronym: the concept that Brazil, Russia, India, and China have much in common other than their high economic growth rates. And even the assertion that all four BRIC countries are growing at high economic rates is questionable; Russia certainly isn’t right now.

Indeed, the differences between the richest member of the BRICs (Russia) and the poorest member (India) are stunning. Just look at the map at the beginning of this post; almost everybody is literate in Russia, while literacy rates in India are comparable to those in Sudan and Nigeria.

Or think about hunger. Hundreds of millions of people in India are not getting enough food to eat; India has the highest number of malnourished people in the world. In Russia, on the other hand, everybody gets enough to eat. The last time large numbers of Russians didn’t get enough food was more than half a century ago, which had something to do with a man named Hitler. Check out the difference between google results for Russian malnutrition and Indian malnutrition.

All in all, the differences between living standards and relative global power of the BRIC countries are vast. One could say that the United States and Russia have more in common than Russia and India, with respect to living standards (or many other things, in fact). BRIC is a fallacy.

--inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

 

Worldwatch report focuses on China’s green future

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

China’s environmental problems remain a cause for global concern as climate change continues to reduce agricultural production and create instability in world food prices, according to The Worldwatch Institute’s report Green Economy and Green Jobs: Current Status and Potentials for 2020. The report was co-authored with a research team at the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies led by Dr. Pan Jiahuathe. It cites alarming facts about the status of China's environmental stability, including the placement of seven Chinese cities on a list of the top ten most polluted places on earth. "In 2005, water in 59 percent of rivers was undrinkable, along with 70 percent of water reserves and inland lakes, and one quarter of all aquifers polluted with more than half of urban aquifers heavily polluted," according to the report.

In order to address its dire environmental problems, China is establishing millions of green jobs in the forestry, energy, and transportation sectors. In particular, China is making efforts to use wind and solar power to greatly reduce China's dependence on coal and create jobs in the manufacturing of wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, and solar water heaters. Additionally, the implementation of high-speed rail throughout the country will allow faster access to business centers and connect people from different regions, while creating jobs in manufacturing and service. While such efforts will help move China in a positive direction, the greatest opportunities for green jobs may be in the sustainable agriculture sector. Sustainable agriculture is a key component in reducing air pollution and water contamination, protecting forests and wildlife, all while producing nutritious food.

At a time when China's population is growing, producing healthy food is of critical importance. But pollution has taken its toll on agriculture by reducing crop production, including a loss 10 million tons of grain production annually, according to the report. China is also facing its worst drought in 6o years which has caused food prices to go up, Oxfam USA notes that in March of this year food prices in China were nearly 12 percent higher than were the previous March. China has emphasized forestry as an effective way of addressing pollution while creating employment opportunities. The report states that forestation alone accounted for 1.8 million full-time green jobs in 2010, and that "nourishing these forested areas is vital for sustaining the country's green transition."

In addition, according to the report, agriculture is one of the largest users of energy in China and that China is also the world's largest producer of fertilizer. In 2010 China’s fertilizer production totaled 66.20 million tons, the largest output in history.

China could also benefit from urban forests as a way to use agriculture to provide environmental benefits. When trees and other vegetation, like urban farms and gardens are planted they act like sinks for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus contributing to reduction of greenhouse gases and reducing air pollution. Urban forests are being looked at by urban planners around the world, including China, as a way to contribute to the health of urban areas.

Worldwatch’s report is the first to highlight China's move toward a green economy and the jobs created along the way. At a time when food security is of global concern and population growth continues to stress the environment, the innovations highlighted in the report have the potential to affect the world in a positive way. The report states "One of the greatest lessons to be learned from the early days of China's green transition is that building a sustainable future requires using approaches and processes that are sustainable in practice as well." With more China-focused projects in development, including a potential sustainable agriculture strategy for the northwestern regions, China could achieve both an effective and efficient transition towards green economy.

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