High-speed rail from China to California

Earlier this morning I was reading a surprisingly, pleasingly blunt BBC article, about California’s trade mission.  The actual title is Arnold Schwarzenegger sells California to East Asia! While visiting, Governor Schwarzenegger wanted to have a look at the latest high-speed passenger rail transportation technology.

The State of California, with its $19 billion deficit, is investigating public transportation alternatives used in other parts of the world. Japan is interested in contracting to build the trains and loaning California the money to pay for the work. China is too.

How high-speed rail came to China

China has the world’s longest high-speed rail line. However, the expertise to develop and build it was largely contributed by European and Asian countries with advanced technological skills in everything from control systems to laying tracks.

When the Japanese and European companies that pioneered high-speed rail agreed to build trains for China, they thought they’d be getting access to a booming new market, billions of dollars worth of contracts and the cachet of creating the most ambitious rapid rail system in history.  What they didn’t count on was having to compete with Chinese firms who adapted their technology and turned it against them just a few years later.
Train Makers Rail Against China’s High-Speed Designs

There will be some fascinating intellectual property issues should China decide to enter the high-speed rail market as a producer and exporter, given the origins of the technology.

China will also experience market-based challenges in the form of competition from countries such as South Korea, who has worked in a contractual arrangement with the EU’s high-speed TGV passenger rail. Both South Korea and Japan would be eager to work with U.S. government or government-funded entities, whether state of federal, in upgrading our nation’s passenger rail service.

California’s fascination with rail transit

California’s history with high-speed rail goes back to 1982, during the days of Governor Jerry Brown. With just a single law, Brown created a California High Speed Rail project and exempted it from California Environmental Quality Act rules. In 1996, the state legislature created a High-Speed Rail Authority. Last year, the California State Auditor expressed some concerns about the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority: “It Risks Delays or an Incomplete System Because of Inadequate Planning, Weak Oversight, and Lax Contract Management”.

Re-patriation initiative

Demanding transfer of advanced technology from foreign companies, in exchange for access to China’s vast domestic market, has become something of a Chinese national economic strategy.  Despite being forward-looking, China is already encountering challenges that come with a global race to the bottom.

Shanghai authorities have revealed that they are using a database of Chinese students studying abroad in a bid to attract top talent back to the city. The database is populated with information corresponding to Chinese students attending the world’s top 100 universities…
Student database used in Chinese “re-patriation” effort

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