I got another email from a train & transit buddy of mine recently. Talking about how the United States has fallen behind in the race to have high speed rail. Now before I leap into what I’m going to say, I want to make it abundantly clear that what we are achieving today, what we’re doing today as a nation is pathetic. I’m talking about 3rd world nation pathetic. While we ride on the backs of technology to carry the country along and any hope of growth, the real industry leaders of railroads, construction and manufacturing have fallen into dormancy. In large part because of the disgraceful behavior of the Government and the politicians pretending they can run and economy and build cities.
Simply, they will not and can never achieve what the US did and the titans of industry accomplished with the help of the American people between 1865 and 1915. I’m not saying everything is hunky dory and lovely from that era, I’m just saying we’ve become absurdly pathetic as a nation. We can’t achieve what we did then, we can’t innovate nor have we proven that we have the insight or drive to create, innovate, build and bring about a better future for everyone. Simply, the United States is absolutely a shadow of what it once was and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We’re in for an extremely rude awakening that we have taken what our forefathers provided us, and rested heavily on our laurels to our children’s detriment. They are now the one’s, completely ill-prepared, to rebuild that level of achievement and growth. Something that the Chinese or some other country, that is actually less prepared to handle these things, will have to take the reigns anyway.
So let’s talk about a few comparisons, since everyone is so wowed by the Chinese and their railroad. Let’s get a better perspective about what the Chinese are achieving compared with the United States of 1865-1915.
The Chinese, in 50 years have built approximately 65,545 miles of railroad. This has been done with tooling and equipment that they’ve built using designs and technology created by the United States, Europe and other nations. It is technology that we used between 1865-1915, also a 50 year span, to build 129,774 miles of railroad by 1890, with a total of 250,000 miles by 1915. So really, the Chinese have accomplished a mere portion of what the United States did with technology that had to be developed when the US Railroads were being built. Many Chinese Americans also helped to achieve that, because here they innovate and create in ways that just wouldn’t happen in China itself (at least, there has been no evidence to the contrary, new ideas are extremely slow to take hold in mainland China, however a change of Governmental systems seems to do the trick, as Taiwan and Hong Kong have shown without doubt). To put it simply, the freer the market, the greater the achievements The same can be seen for “free-market” Britain as well as “market driven” TGV, Shinkansen etc. I could go on about this even more, but suffice it to say at 250,000 miles of railroad, no country on Earth has even come close to the achievements of American entrepreneurs and industrialists during 1865-1915. NOWHERE EVEN CLOSE.
For another comparison, let’s take speeds achieved by the Chinese on their high speed rail. The trains generally, now after several accidents causing dozens of deaths, travel at a safer 187 mph. Which is now, in 2012 the general speed of high speed rail. No real achievement has been made here. The TGV holds the highest speed at record and has areas that operate at higher speeds.
In the US, and I know this isn’t in the 1865-1915 range, but just stay with me for a minute. The New York Central in 1966 achieved 196 mph with the M-497. In the 1940’s the Milwaukee Road ran rail service over 100mph, hitting up to 120 mph for part of the trip. Note, that was the 1940’s. In 1934 the Milwaukee Road had a line running a peak of 103.6 mph, in 1934!
Ok, so those speeds are all great right, but let’s step back again to the years we’re really comparing. In 1905 the Pennsylvania Railroad ran a speed record at 127.2 mph near Crestline, Ohio with an E7sa 4-4-2 Atlantic. This same train was running rail service at 88-90 mph daily at the time. Something that makes the current Chinese rail operations seem not so spectacular, and the modern US rail operations a complete embarrassment. When we look at the averages, things look even better for our forefathers in the 1865-1915 period too, as our modern averages drop horribly low. But let’s not dig into how poorly we do today compared to our forefathers.
Another great thing the Chines have built is this fantastic sprawling train station shown below.
Again, don’t get me wrong. They’ve created an amazing station here. But let’s step back to that 1865-1915 America again just for a second and take a look at Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Grand Central Terminal. Here are the upper tracks:
Oh yeah, and here’s the OTHER LEVEL of tracks.
That’s two decks of train tracks, built in 1913. All underground so it doesn’t block up massive sprawling space like the station shown in China. It was built that way to better service New York at its very core. But wait, that’s not all. Guess what else is under the station. If you said the 42nd street subway you’d be correct! The subway was running as of 1904, with the station finally open for business in 1915.
So what am I really saying by doing this comparison? It’s simple, I’m saying we’re not and should not be trying to compete with the modern Chinese. We should be competing with ourselves. Our own nation has languished and become weaker by the year. Our peak, militarily can be said to have happened in WWII, however our economic powerhouse was created in the span of 1865-1915. What was built then was what enabled us to power our way through WWII, out producing every nation on Earth. It was these years of economic strength that set us up to be able to create the greatest middle class to the world had known. But now we’re too busy fussing and begging the Government to build us out of our debt and misfortune. We’ve become a nation not of doers but of beggars and people subsisting on others. We’re in debt beyond our wildest dreams while we continue to out consume and further plunge into debt. We act like we own houses while we make massive mortgage payments, also known when translated as “death payments”. What we have achieved was basically set into motion in those years, 1865-1915, and we’ve done little to truly progress past that, except to increase our dependence on an unreliable and faulty Government.
What the Chinese have built is commendable, but it isn’t anything that the United States had not already accomplished almost a hundred years ago. It’s just we’ve fallen so far from our peak, our achievements have withered and we’ve forgotten and cared not what we once were as a nation.
The good thing is, the United States may find itself yet. We may find that maybe, just maybe there is another type of grand success and great life to be had. Maybe we don’t have to acheive these things. Maybe the Chinese are merely chasing our own failures while we’re finding our way to different things. I think we’ll still need to build our way out of the current doldrums, but we could still do it. It just won’t be anything like what we achieved in the past.
Simply, our forefathers have seriously kicked our ass, and there’s no way the modern generation, or next few generations are going to reclaim that pedestal. We’re too busy figuring out how to create “social media” empires of pettiness.
…and also, the next entry will be much more positive. I just had to get this written out as I’m tired of how the “Chinese are beating us”, when in reality we’re not being beaten by anyone but ourselves.
Figured I’d add some context to the ongoing discussions about the fancy railroads in China… 😉
WW2 wasn’t our military peak. we aren’t even there yet.
the WW2 army was a low trained drafted force. we beat the germans because we were able to out produce them and destroy their logistics. we beat the japanese because we were able to crack their code and then destroy their logistics as well. in fact the post WW2 US military is based on German concepts of highly trained soldiers with the best equipment.
as far as trains, we have a nice train system for short trips. i don’t know about China, but in the US people take airplanes for long trips. once a year i fly 1600 to visit family halfway across the US and the last thing i want to do is spend a day or two on the train when i can fly in 4 1/2 hours
I don’t generally disagree with what you’ve said. However, the pathetic nature of our rail infrastructure now is a shadow of what we could do 50 years ago, or even 100 years ago. People act all shocked when they see China rearing its strength of economy as if the United States wasn’t in that position before. The US is faltering heavily now, but overall, nobody including China has come close to the rise of the United States as a relevant power in the world.
Also – I’m not proposing in the least we get rid of air travel. Just that having 100-300 mile air trips is freaking stupid, but our Government has encouraged that for the last 40-50 years through zoning, subsidy of one mode over another and outright neglect. We’re only now wising up to our lack of intelligent use of infrastructure. Hopefully it’ll get righted before the next few generations of Americans get wrecked (morally, economically, environmentally, etc) by it.
You have your captions mixed up – what you call the Upper Level of GCT is actually the lower level, and vice versa. Also, the Subway isn’t below the station, it straddles it near the southeast corner at 42 st.
Whoops, yeah I goofed those up. Will fix shortly.
ok, ok, ok, ya got me on the subway too, it does straddle nearby, the point however doesn’t change. It’s super busy on a massive scale. 😉
Thanks for the corrections btw.