Transport update

Armed lunatics in the US mow down kindergarten kids and firemen; factory fires in South Asia kill hundreds of sweatshop workers; North Korea and Iran upgrade their respective nuclear weapons capabilities. And then, bursting out of the world’s maelstrom of outrages and calamities: a Hongkonger has to wait two and a half hours for lunch. (Don’t mock. A few years back, burly firemen went on hunger strike to protest the amount of volleyball they had to play or something, and within hours were fainting from the trauma.)

The politically correct angle is that China has opened the world’s longest high-speed rail service, and it will “not only improve transportation conditions, but also cut logistics costs, boost the comprehensive development of land resources along the route, enhance the investment environment and improve economic collaboration and the division of labor between regions.” (‘Comprehensive development of land resources’; nicely put.)

A mildly skeptical view is that the 2,300-km, eight-hour Beijing-Guangzhou ride isn’t worth it. It’s quicker, and barely pricier, to fly, though at least the thing didn’t fly off a viaduct and kill everyone.

The South China Morning Post’s ravenous reporter on the inaugural service gets everything in perspective: the lunch service on the gleaming space-age bullet train was atrocious. She waited only two and a half hours because railway staff noticed she was with the press and hoped she would go easy on them if they fed her before the rest of the starving passengers – wrongly, as anyone who knows the Hong Kong media’s fearless dedication to the truth would have expected. (Indeed, no flaw is too minor or distasteful to cover up, with supplies of cupcakes running out and “Chewing gum left on the window sill of the new train.” Ewww.)

In terms of energy costs and returns on investment, high-speed trains make economic sense up to a particular speed over distances too long for buses but too short for aircraft. China’s cross-country network is probably money down the drain, especially given that ticket prices are out of reach for people like migrant workers. Still, the attendants are no doubt very charming, and the drivers wear the most stunningly white gloves to reassure you how safe you are, even if a tad hungry…


Meanwhile, back in the Big Lychee, vehicle owners continue in their pursuit of unusual personalized registration tags, providing further stimulation for one of our more unusual art forms. Following Last March’s Dear Shanice, here’s Shanice’s reply.

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11 Responses to Transport update

  1. Sir Crispin says:

    “though at least the thing didn’t fly off a viaduct and kill everyone.”

    Well, not yet anyway. Engineering professors in the mainland know full well, and have commented loudly, that an unfortunate tragedy is inevitable, given that sub-standard concrete made with low quality cement was used on much of the line.

  2. Dirty Old Lois Beluga says:

    Yummy hostesses…we all know the Five Mile High Club…is there such a thing as the Five Hours Late club?

  3. Property Developer says:

    I can understand the foreign press revealing their identity when they’re being brutally beaten up on the mainland.

    But surely it destroys the whole pretense of fly-on-the-wall reportage to pull rank just because your luxury lunchbox is a tad late?

  4. Walter De Havilland says:

    What struck me watching the TV coverage was the appalling visibility, with the train driver able to see no more then 100 feet through the smog that engulfs China at this time of year. Maybe trains are the only way forward because the airports will be shut down as runways become obscured in the filth.

  5. Walter De Havilland says:

    @Property Developer. You forget that some reporters come with a self administered sense of self importance that means they can do anything, say anything and write anything. They are above the laws of reason, common sense and often the law of the land. Press freedom thumps everything.

  6. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Sir Crispin

    Yes I well recall that there were alarming reports of sub-standard concrete being used (something about having to mix in very fine grade coal ash from power stations to strengthen the concrete, but instead they blatantly used rubbish stuff )

    So one day there will be a catastrophic crash at 300 km / hour and by comparison the Wenzhou crash will seem like a tea party. .

    I think I’d rather go down in an aircraft crash, which mercifully happens very quickly , finally ( and rarely these days), rather be buried under a pile of twisted carriages for hours.

    Air travel has been tested world wide for a couple of generations , and every fatal crash has taught the industry deep lessons. But these high speed railways are running on uncharted territory safety wise, not to mention substandard concrete and sleepers.

  7. Hendrick says:

    Tight quality control and high levels of ongoing testing are required to ensure mix consistancy and design strength of concrete. What is worrying are the layers of sub-contracting, each level representing an opportunity for corrupt practices and a step further from proper monitoring. It is unlikely that sufficient overdesign has been allowed to tolerate a significant degree of quality deviation. This, together with bent officials who look for every opportunity to turn a blind eye to augment their salaries does not bode well for high speed rail travel in China.
    During my time working in China it was a daily struggle to achieve specified quality.
    No night time service yet. Perhaps they are running empty trains full speed overnight to stress the system and closely monitor structures.
    As most of this new line was well under construction before the Wenzhou disaster and official awareness of the problems, good luck to future travellers.

  8. Darovia says:

    Great. Driving a train at 300KpH with 100 feet forward visibility. No doubt relying on (already proven) advanced control technology to watch the track ahead.

  9. Property Developer says:

    To be frank, the risk to life and limb on these trains must be low compared to crossing the road anywhere in mainland cities. For a start, there will be coping mechanisms, like going a bit slower when the tracks sound funny; testing with empty trains; suppressing criticism; even rebuilding or reinforcing the obviously shoddier parts.

    While quality control is an abstract, alien concept (it contains the word quality — cf. the impossibility of “trust” funds), ingenuity and joining hands to sit down and take tea together will take those responsible quite a long way.

    Like CCP governance, short-term expedients and cover-ups may, then, compensate for deep, systemic problems — but it just takes one catastrophe for social factors to come into play, the foreign press to magnify and distort it, and all hell to break loose.

  10. Hendrick says:

    I often see a mean triadmobile looking vehicle parked outside a property agency with the registration “MR SNAKE”. Nice.
    And a gargantuan silver Rolls Royce marked “Pumpkin”. Maybe the next financial crash will represent midnight.

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