At a speed of 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, an hour, China's latest infrastructure marvel covers a distance similar to that between New York and Key West, Fla. in only 8 hours. Amtrak trains from New York to Miami take 30 hours. According to Keith Bradsher, the latest milestone - which means the country has completed 5,809 miles of high-speed lines in just over four years - is not just significant for train enthusiasts; it's having a notable impact on China's economy and environment.
"Lavish spending on the project has helped jump-start the Chinese economy twice: in 2009, during the global financial crisis, and again this autumn, after a brief but sharp economic slowdown over the summer," says Bradsher. "The hiring of as many as 100,000 workers for each line has kept a lid on unemployment as private-sector construction has slowed because of limits on real estate speculation. The national network has helped to reduce air pollution in Chinese cities and helped to curb demand for imported diesel fuel by freeing capacity on older rail lines for goods to be carried by freight trains instead of heavily polluting, costlier trucks."
"But the high-speed rail system has also been controversial in China. Debt to finance the construction has reached nearly 4 trillion renminbi, or $640 billion, making it one of the most visible reasons total debt has been surging as a share of economic output in China, and is approaching levels in the West."