As the United States attempts to improve and expand commuter rail services, our nation once again looks to China for assistance in building these railways. According to an article in the New York Times, the state of California might enter an agreement with China to supply the technology, equipment and engineers to help build high-speed rail lines.

The Times reports that China is eager to "become a big exporter and licensor of bullet trains traveling 215 miles an hour, an environmentally friendly technology in which China has raced past the United States in the last few years." The nation has already sold their technology to countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Additionally, China is willing to help pay for the upgrades. The U.S. has entered discussions with other nations (including Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and Italy) to purchase rail equipment, but the Times reports that the Chinese offer shows "no apparent weaknesses" and seems attractive to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If California were to enter an agreement with the Chinese rail ministry, the state would still face many obstacles to the project, including immigration laws and labor unions. Zheng Jian, China's railway ministry chief planner and director, has built a reputation for fast completion at low cost, according to the article. Skeptics of the plan, however, feel the pressure to "buy-American" will pose a serious challenge to the project.

General Electric, which builds diesel locomotives but not generally electric, high-speed trains, told the Times that 80 percent of the components of the new trains would come from American suppliers and the final assembly would take place in the U.S. The deal would primarily involve licensing the technology and "supply engineers as well as up to 20 percent of the components" of the trains.

According to the Times, the plan proposes to use a closed Toyota assembly plant in Fremont, Calif., for the assembly project for the rail parts that would arrive in the port at Oakland.

California plans to spend $2.25 billion in federal economic stimulus dollars for a rail route connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles, according to the article, and proposes to open the line in 2020. The total project would cost nearly $43 billion, and China is in a position to lend money for the rail project.

Its successful completion could lead to future lines extending to Sacramento and San Diego, with hopes of a line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Zheng told the Times he felt confident that China's technology could be effective in other routes, like the current Amtrak routes to between New York and Chicago (which take about 19 hours). Similar routes in China take about 10 hours currently and will take only four with the completion of China's own high-speed rail projects.

California consults with China about high-speed rail
Chinese government offers high-speed rail expertise to U.S. projects.