Last May, less than 6 months ago, as we lumbered by bus from Shanghai to Hangzhou (via Suzhou) our witty and competent tour guide pointed out a big engineering project underway.
Pointing to an elevated railway that, like most projects in China, was either falling down or going up, hard to tell, she said people would use this new line to work in Shanghai and live in Hangzhou, her beloved hometown. Shanghai and Hangzhou are about 125 miles apart.
In Chinese time, six months must be nothing; the high speed railway has begun service today, and spurs and connecting lines are probably sprouting as I type.
In Hawaii, we have been talking about rail alternatives for as long as I can remember. If we had started construction ten years ago--if we were China --we would probably have a functioning rail transit system now and I could walk a block to a bus link and catch a train to work instead of driving. And now, even with Federal funds promised for the project, people still are fighting it. I expect this initiative to go the way of the Superferry, an inter-island alternative to flying that died an unfortunate political death.
There are many things to criticize about China's ability to get things done, and fast, particularly cheap labor, disregard for property rights and probably safety. (Don't know if the construction contracts for the trains have anything in common with those for schools and mines.) High construction costs and "human rights" concerns may actually hamper development in Hawaii. But there is one thing that China seems to have in spades: commitment. (The same article about the train also notes that the Three Gorges Dam is now producing electricity at maximum output. I've not been a fan of this engineering project, but before you complain, you should know that the idea for this big hydroelectric dam was planted in Mao Zedong's mind in our era of big dam building by...Franklin Roosevelt. Kind of the engineering equivalent of taking over Tibet. "Prease to not talk to us about Tibet or dams. We will remind your treatment of Native Americans and the TVA.")
China's current development miracles are partly due to today's leadership being civil engineers by trade, and not political demagogues interested in social engineering. By no means am I saying I wish engineers ran my state or nation, but I do wish we had leaders who could actually get something done.