China joins growing interest in CA high speed rail

by James Poulos | October 10, 2015 5:47 am

xpress-west-1 train[1]Seeking to tout its market value, California’s High Speed Rail Authority recently solicited bids for private investment, drawing dozens of responses.

“Facing criticism from opponents for the lack of private investors lining up to finance the $68 billion project, the rail authority asked private firms to respond to a list of questions on how to reduce costs, speed up construction and attract more private-sector investment for a segment from Merced to Burbank, which is scheduled to start operating in 2022,” ABC News reported[2].

Political challenges

Although the interest has not fundamentally altered the political calculus or the political controversy surrounding the embattled scheme, it has given fans of the bullet train some evidence that it could be more than a sinkhole for public funds.

But the Rail Authority has struggled to convince Californians in many communities that the upheaval promised by the train’s construction and operation are worth the added services. In preparation for a public forum on the so-called Peninsula segment of the line, running through Silicon Valley, the Authority said “it is planning to blend high-speed trains with Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose to minimize the disruption to local communities,” according[3] to the San Jose Mercury News.

The China connection

California has become something of a proving ground for high-speed rail, with interest running high among some of the most powerful companies and countries in the world.

Elon Musk’s hyperloop design for ultra-fast vacuum-powered mass transit has spawned a test track that will parallel a stretch of the same I-5 freeway intended to guide the state-funded bullet train Gov. Brown has long supported.

And China, one of the biggest international players in high-speed rail, has done its best to become a key player in California’s deployment of the technology. Among the 35 respondents to the Rail Authority’s solicitation for private funds was a group called the Chinese High Speed Rail Delivery Team, the AP reported. Additionally, the Chinese government’s railway conglomerate aced out rival Japan for the state’s other major rail project, the XpressWest train that would connect Las Vegas to Los Angeles commuters willing to take a modest trek to its westerly terminus.

Both moves have taken shape as part of a broader effort by China to establish a big tech-driven infrastructure footprint in the West. “Electric cars from Faraday Future, a project linked to Chinese tech conglomerate Leshi Internet Information and Technology, could roll off a production line in North Las Vegas,” the Las Vegas Sun reported[4], “if a rumored tax incentive passes a special session of the Legislature that Gov. Brian Sandoval may call. “Sandoval also plans to embark on a trade mission to China in October, to visit Xi’an, Nanjiang, Shanghai and Beijing with governors of other Western states to drum up business in clean technology, taking advantage of the country’s recently announced cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions.”

In the meantime, China has kept its eye on the level of interest surrounding the state’s high speed rail endeavor. Reporting on Morales’s reaction to the responses, Shanghai Daily noted that “[a] few of them expressed their interest in helping build the whole Initial Operating Segment (IOS) […] in a package including the civil works, track, infrastructure, stations and rolling stock. But more of them are focusing on one or a few elements, Morales said.”

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