Railways and Subways: Chinese Technology in the United States and Abroad

By Tyler Jiang

With over 14,000 miles of tracks, China has the world’s most extensive high-speed railway network (HSR). Introduced in 2007 with the 250km/h Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Rail route, China’s network has connected 29 of the country’s 33 provinces and regions. Even though the network has been plagued in recent years by corruption and shoddy workmanship on construction, China boasts one of the best safety records of any high-speed railway network, with only one serious incident in 2011. Chinese HSR technology has also developed at a rapid pace. Starting initially with imported technology from companies such as Siemens and Bombardier, China has successfully built upon this technology to create its own, which it has exported to countries such as Turkey, Russia, and Thailand. Along with HSR technology, China has researched an implemented modern technology such as ballast-less tracks and standard electric locomotives.

In recent years, China has also made inroads in exporting its HSR technology to the United States. Once the leader in railway technology, the United States has seen its railway infrastructure deteriorate at a rapid rate, with Amtrak’s high ticket prices deterring many from utilizing its services. Amtrak has also faced fierce competition from airlines and travelers who prefer to drive. Even with the decline in popularity, there have been attempts to build HSR infrastructure in the U.S., with prominent projects being the California High-Speed Rail and the Florida High-Speed Rail projects, both of which China has expressed interest in constructing. Unfortunately, all of these projects have hit walls, primarily from taxpayers who don’t see any long-term benefit that would offset the upfront cost of construction and operation. Nonetheless, China has signed cooperative agreements with Vertex Rail Technologies which will allow it to sell rail cars within the United State made from Chinese parts but assembled in Vertex’s facility in Virginia.

Even though HSR doesn’t have a bright future in America, China has made major inroads in the public transportation sector in the United States. In 2014, China’s CRRC group beat out competitors such as Bombardier, Kawasaki, and Hyundai Rotem to secure a contract with Boston’s MBTA to supply the city with 284 subway cars to replace its aging Orange Line Fleet, a contract worth $726 million. In 2016, CRRC secured two contracts in quick succession, one for $1.3 billion to supply Chicago with 400 metro cars and one $174 million contract with Los Angeles. Along with being the first-time Chinese subway cars will enter into service within the United States, CRRC has committed to building two manufacturing plants within the United States that will allow it to fulfill orders. Not only is China promoting its railway technology, it is also providing jobs in the United States.

As China develops domestically, it is only natural that it wants to export its technology, something that it is proud of, around the world. Its technology is highly popular among developing countries where China can underbid its rivals, offering infrastructure solutions for a lower cost as well as train speeds up to 350 km/h. The entry of China into the American market indicates how much China’s railway technology has grown and developed into a world leader, rivaling global powerhouses such as Siemens and Alstom. Unfortunately for the United States, its domestic railway technology groups have gone into decline, with General Electric planning on disposing of its highly prized locomotive group. As China continues to develop new technology, its cheap price and quality will allow it to compete with veteran companies. Therefore, it will not be surprising in the future to see more Chinese trains around the world and even within the United States.

 

Tyler Jiang is a senior at Rowan University where he studies International Studies and History. He is the blogger for African Affairs for the SIR Journal.