Why is the People’s Republic of China is so good at building railways? Why is it so hard in the United States or in Europe? Those are the question Wendover Productions is asking its YouTube video.
The bottom line is political will. And it’s true. Political will could facilitate an integrated pan-European train ticket booking system for international rail links. Danny wrote a blog post on the issue.
But political will is only one factor. There are others.
The Chinese government isn’t used to listen to civil society, pressure groups or local protest against big projects. In Europe big building projects almost always face challenges by citizens, local authorities or pressure groups. It’s not unusual this projects are (not) settled in court.
Trade regulations by the European Union also limit the scope of actions for national governments. This can be both a good and a bad thing.
China doesn’t listen to its citizens. The government does what it wants. This is also a good and a bad thing.
The other factor Wendover doesn’t mention is technical differences between national railway systems in Europe.
Gauge (the width between rails), voltage, security systems, … can differ. Developing rolling stock capable of travelling in several countries is certainly not impossible, but difficult.
Somewhat linked to the democratic issues are cultural issues. As in France, Chinese HST stations can be located far away from cities. But in Belgium that would be unacceptable. How often should a train stop? How many times do you need to change trains? Many people want one, maximum two trains on their journey.
It can be very hard and delicate to keep everyone in every country happy.
The future is bright?
Slowly though, Europeans are realizing the environmental cost of cheap air travel is too high. Slowly, Europeans will realize rail travel is the future. So maybe, we can be inspired by China.
The photo was taken in 2013 in Hakone, Japan. I don’t have a photo of China.