From America’s great railways in the 1950s to China’s latest high-speed rail line.

China’s latest new high-speed passenger rail line halves travel time between Shanghai and the eastern city of Hangzhou

China on Tuesday unveiled what it described as the world’s fastest bullet train, which will connect two of the country’s industrial hubs traveling at an average speed of 350 km per hour.

What American train travel use to be like:  Take a 1950′s luxury train trip from Chicago to Seattle on the “Super Dome Olympian Hiawatha”, replete with footage in the diner, coaches, Super Dome, sky top car, and sleepers, running along the Dells, the Mississippi, and the electrified territory in the mountains. Visits are made to many tourist spots along the way. The films full title is “Pacific Northwest Holiday on the Super Dome Olympian Hiawatha”, it was produced by the Milwaukee Road in 1952 to promote the new “Super Dome” cars.

America at one time had fast trains, nothing like the bullet trains in the UK, Europe, Japan and China. But since Amtrak took over and the U.S. Government has totally ignored the rail system, trains struggle on like the American economy.

In China it’s a different story.  The rail link between Shanghai and Hangzhou, the latest addition to China’s fast-expanding high-speed rail network that is already the world’s largest, covers the 200-km distance in only 45 minutes, reducing the traveling time from 78 minutes.

In Longfellow’s novel, Hiawatha was a great Indian so fast that he could over run his own arrow in flight. The Company Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (The Milwaukee Road) picked this name in 1935 for a range of trains which could reach for the first time over a 100 miles an hour.  Now Amtrak, on the same line, barely hits 60 mph.

The first train on the newly operated high speed railway from Hangzhou to Shanghai runs through Jiashan, east China’s Zhejiang Province, Oct. 26, 2010.

The 202km Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed railway, with a design speed of 350km per hour, began its operation on Tuesday morning. (Xinhua/Han Chuanhao)

The home-built CRH380 bullet train has been recorded traveling at 420 km per hour, a world record. It will, however, travel between the two cities at less than full tilt, at an average speed of 350 km per hour.

China’s high-speed rail network now stretches over 7,431 km. The government plans to expand the network to over 16,000 km by 2020.

Investment in the high-speed rail network has gathered pace since the first line, connecting Beijing with the port city Tianjin, opened in 2008.

Following the $586-billion stimulus plan that was announced in November 2008, spending on infrastructure projects has increased substantially.

China is investing an estimated $300 billion on its high-speed rail network.

The investment has divided opinion — some planners have cautioned that local governments will struggle to recoup the investment. Others have argued the rail network will spur economic development by boosting connectivity.

“The operation of the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed rail line will help alleviate traffic pressure in the Yangtze River Delta region”, which is in China’s manufacturing heartland, said Liu Zhijun of the Minister of Railways. The Ministry forecasts that passengers will make more than three billion trips in and out of the Yangtze delta in 2010, spurring development.

China has also begun work on a 1,318-km high-speed rail line linking the country’s two most important cities — Beijing and Shanghai. The $33-billion line will open in 2012, reducing the travel time between the capital and the financial center in half, to just five hours.

America struggles along with slow trains and Amtrak.  The national rail service was suppose to be the answer but after 40 years its nothing but a tired  joke.

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