China's Rail Titans Bid for U.S. High-Speed Project

After 150 years, the Chinese are again looking to play a major role in building American railroads, with a consortium of state-owned companies bidding for the first high-speed rail project in the United States.

The consortium comprising the Shanghai Railway Bureau, China Railway Construction Corporation (Hong Kong- and Shanghai-listed CRCC), CSR Corporation (also listed in Hong Kong and Shanghai) and the Third Railway Survey and Design Institute (majority-owned by the Railways Ministry) submitted an expression of interest in March to bid for California's high-speed rail project.

This move was revealed at the High Speed Rail Asia conference in Hong Kong yesterday by Qian Guifeng, deputy director of the US Railway Project Working Group, the Ministry of Railways' unit promoting Chinese railway firms in the US.

If the consortium won the tender, the bureau would operate the line, CRCC would build the track, CSR would supply the rolling stock and the institute would design the high-speed project, Qian said.

Consortia from Japan, France, Spain and South Korea had also submitted expressions of interest to bid for the project, she said.

Alstom of France, Britain's Virgin Rail Group and Amtrak of the US have expressed interest in the project, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority's website.

The 1,290-kilometre line from north to south California will cost US$45 billion, of which US$12 billion is expected to come from private-public partnerships.

The railway has received US$3.4 billion in US federal government funding, the biggest allocation for a high-speed rail project. Trains on the line will run at 354 kilometres per hour.

Rod Diridon, a former board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said that by September next year, one of the consortia was expected to be chosen and construction would begin.

The line's main section is expected to be completed by 2020, according to Diridon, who is also executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, a US government-funded think-tank.

The dismissal of former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun in February would not affect China's ability to win contracts on the project, Diridon said. "The Chinese Ministry of Railways people are working on US-China railway partnerships in potential US high-speed rail projects - they are still there and they are working hard," he said.

Qian said CRCC, China Development Bank and a joint venture between CSR and US giant GE were interested in bidding for another US high-speed rail project, DesertXpress, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

China Development Bank hopes to finance the project, with CRCC laying the track and the joint venture supplying the trains. The timetable for the DesertXpress had yet to be determined because the project was trying to secure funding, she said. In addition, Qian said, the Railways Ministry was in talks with US authorities over the Chicago airport high-speed rail project.

The Spanish government plans to expand its existing high-speed rail network as well, and given the dire state of the Spanish economy, is interested in attracting private-public partnerships, according to Juan Matias Archilla Pintidura, international project director of Renfe, the Spanish state-owned railway company.

Pintidura said a Chinese rolling stock manufacturer was interested in bidding for the Spanish high-speed projects. China has two dominant rolling stock makers: CSR and China CNR Corporation.

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