China is seeking to privatize its rail system. Considering what a mess that has made of rail systems just about everywhere else, I can’t imagine why. This Asia Times article suggests that it won’t be easy:
As in many other areas of China’s economic reform program, it seems the easy measures have already been taken, and acting decisively on the remaining problems threatens unpredictable, severe consequences. Without private rail capital, China can’t afford the rail system it needs. But private capital demands a return, which can’t be guaranteed without freeing freight rates. And if freight rates are freed, it will be impossible to move the coal that is needed in such vast quantities because energy prices are subsidized (making Chinese enterprises, by the government’s own admission, among the least efficient energy users in the world). But if energy prices were allowed to rise, then thousands of enterprises would instantly become non-viable, throwing millions of workers onto the street. How can a government whose legitimacy depends on continued economic growth afford to risk this?
The article is called “Privatizing the ‘iron rooster.’” The editor notes:
[Ed: The Chinese word for ‘train’ literally translates to ‘iron rooster’.] Now, I know that this comes from a book by Paul Theroux, but I really don’t recall where he got it from. The only Chinese word I know for train is 火車, which could be picked apart literally (if you really wanted to do such a thing) as “fire carriage” not “iron rooster.” I thought it might be one of those China/Taiwan things — but my dictionary doesn’t seem to say any different. Does anyone know where this comes from?