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Role Reversal: Calif. High Speed Rail Plan May Use Chinese Tech and U.S. Labor

Friday, June 24, 2011 - 11:10 AM

(Chinese Maglev High-Speed Rail Train, (cc) by Flickr User cramnic)

Nearly 150 years ago America built the first transcontinental railroad with  American technology and capital, but imported labor. Some 10,000 Chinese workers used pickaxes and dynamite to cut tunnels and lay rail-lines, sometimes below feet of snow where locals wouldn't work. Now, President Obama is promoting a new generation of rail and the Chinese are again involved. This time, though, they don't just want to swing an axe. They want to design and part-fund America's first generation of high-speed rail based on their own existing technology. Americans would provide the labor.

Alastair Leithead, a reporter with the BBC, has been looking at the story for their series "Power of Asia." Our partner The Takeaway excepts some of his reporting and talks with Brian Leung, the author of "Take Me Home" a book about Chinese Americans in the nineteenth century.

"I think if this project takes hold there are going to be lots of interesting discussions about what labor pool is going to be exploited in the building this time," Leung says.

Hear the full story of China's American rail ambitions, the labor/capital role reversal on rail, and the interview with Leung at The Takeaway.

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