Posts Tagged: China



Building American Bridges – In China

Despite the paranoid and near-endless calls by come columnists and pundits for economic austerity measures throughout the developed world, there are those in America calling for much-needed upgrades to that nation’s infrastructure as a way to stimulate job-creation and engage in the patriotic act of nation-building by actually building a nation.

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman and Thomas L. Friedman relentlessly lionize this approach as a path towards economic recovery and the improvement of the nation. Consider today’s column by Friedman where he says:

. . . we used the cold war and the Russian threat as a reason and motivator to do big, hard things together at home — to do nation-building in America. We used it to build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, push out the boundaries of science, teach new languages, maintain fiscal discipline and, when needed, raise taxes. We won the cold war with collective action . . . Imagine where we’d be today if on the morning of 9/12 Bush had announced (as some of us advocated) a “Patriot Tax” of $1 per gallon of gas to pay for education, infrastructure and government research, to help finance our wars and to slash our dependence on Middle East oil. Gasoline in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, averaged $1.66 a gallon.

Strong words that are more than worthy of contemplation. But also worthy of contemplation isn’t just what infrastructure gets built and why; but also where, when and by whom it’s constructed.

Let me explain:

A 700 ton precast segment is lifted to form the Skyway portion of the Eastern Span replacement of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Two months ago the New York Times ran a fascinating article profiling how American companies tasked with building a new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge were outsourcing much of the construction to overseas Chinese manufacturers. We’re not talking just about steel here, but “football field” sized roadbed segments that would be entirely pre-fabricated in China then shipped to America to be assembled by American workers.

The California government entered into the deal willingly as it would reportedly save the state around $400 million. The total cost of the bridge is $7.2 billion.

Now $400 million isn’t peanuts. Especially so for California, a state whose financial situation makes Greece look like Mike Tyson. But $400 million out of $7.2 billion?

That’s a savings of just over 5% of the total project cost. Was saving $400 million worth the billions of dollars – not to mention all the multipliers and indirect economic benefits – shipped overseas to China?

This isn’t an argument in favour of economic protectionism. Globalization is here to stay and will only increase in our lifetime and as I’ve pointed out before, it’s nothing new to us – after all much of North America’s original transport infrastructure was built by outsourced Chinese labour.

The free flow of goods and people throughout the world has proven to be an essential and invaluable tool to growth and wealth creation. But if we as western developed nations become serious about infrastructure spending as a means to stimulate job-creation and nation-building, we’re going to have to pay attention to deals like these.

Sometimes you’ve got to worry about taking care of the homestead.

Granted, this arrangement was brokered long before the economic crisis hit. But the fact that two American companies acted as middle men between the California government and a massive Chinese consortium – reaping whatever profits they could from the deal – suggests that “buying American” isn’t always clear and objective policy.

Building infrastructure alone isn’t enough. Sometimes we’ve got to build it ourselves.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.



CABLEGRAPH: High Speed Rail

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.



High Speed Rail in China – Lessons for the cable industry? (Part 2)

Yesterday’s post High Speed Rail in China – Theft or Innovation? (Part 1) looked at ownership of ideas and innovation, specifically in terms of China’s role in the the advancement of HSR technologies. Following that train of thought (couldn’t help myself!) today I’ll look at what this means for the CPT industry, starting the discussion on the future of CPT transit and innovations.

Traditionally HSR manufacturers focused on incremental innovation. Today, however, Chinese manufacturers are pursuing large-scale disruptive innovations. Disruptive technologies tend to thrive in high growth markets where owners of existing technologies are slow to innovate — at least beyond the pace set by sustainable innovations which are in demand by a pre-existing customer base. Where as incremental innovation generally involves low cost and low risk, disruptive innovation means high cost and high risk since it requires significantly more R&D.

MARKET: As we’ve seen with HSR, and as discussed in yesterday’s post, if a growing market is not being effectively provided for by an existing technology, someone will find a way to improve upon that technology in order to satisfy the market need. While CPT has not yet experienced the same growth as HSR, it has certainly been fielding greater interest. With an increasing number of urban installations and proposed high profile systems the market does appears to be growing. Since all signs indicate that this growth will continue I would argue that CPT will be subject to the same market threats as HSR.

INNOVATION: In the instance of HST, Chinese engineers took a highly advanced technology and (in most cases) improved upon it through genuine innovation. One could argue that gondolas are also a highly advanced technology. While HSR had four major manufacturers, there are only two major ropeway manufacturers. Whether less competition has resulted in less innovation, that is a matter of speculation! Still, it is well known that competition in a growing market drives innovation and technology benefits from offering a faster, cheaper, more capable products. Is there room for significant innovation in the cable industry? I would think so, especially for urban applications.

COST: The Chinese have already dramatically decreased the price of HSR, which was originally being built for around US$100-200 per kilometre. According to Wikipedia the Chinese have completed 250km/h to 350km/h HSR lines for  US$6-32. Further investigation is required into these surprisingly low figures and what factors are attributed to these vast price disparates. Constructing anything at 70% the cost of your competitors would definitely be considered a competitive advantage. At less than 25% of the cost per kilometre, that’s a game changer!

Should the ropeway industry be concerned? I would think so. Is it helpless? Definitely not! What it can do about it is a post for another day.

What is your opinion?


This post was written by Ryan O’Connor. A planning and transportation professional based in Wellington, New Zealand. Ryan has been involved with Creative Urban Projects since March 2010.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.



Chinese Tunnel Bus

Now this is unique.

Engadget reported yesterday that Shenzhen Huashi Future Car-Parking Equipment will begin construction of a 186 km long Tunnel Bus track at year’s end.

That’s right: Tunnel Bus. Not Bus Tunnel. Tunnel Bus. I won’t try and explain it because . . . well . . . it’s a bus . . . and a . . . tunnel . . . just watch the video:

(China Hush has a full translation for those who’re interested.)

What’s surprising about this is that it’s not a proposal. This is actually going to be built. This is both truly exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Exciting to see an alternative transit strategy actually get built, terrifying because it is so far outside the mainstream, it’s almost impossible to imagine it working.

Will it work? Who knows. Such a thing has never been tried before and actually makes the idea of CPT and Urban Gondolas seem rational and sane by comparison.

I’m not going to pass judgement on this yet because there’s really no point; it could be a masterstroke, it could be a disaster. I’m no fortune teller. There are, however, a few questions I have:

  1. Will humans actually want to drive under this or will they avoid it like the plague?
  2. When an accident eventually occurs underneath the bus (and an accident will occur sometime), isn’t the accident going to be exponentially more catastrophic for both drivers and riders of the Tunnel Bus?
  3. How does the Tunnel Bus contend with intersections and turns? In essence, this is nothing more than a (very) clever right-of-way workaround. It doesn’t, however, appear to alleviate the intersection and turning issue which is at the core of all right-of-way problems.
  4. When drivers are underneath the Tunnel Bus, how do they see road signs, stop lights and turning signals?
  5. When can I buy a ticket?

Big thanks to Marielle for sending me the link!

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.