20110630 bullet train 18
A CRH (China Railway High-speed) bullet train bound for Beijing waits at the renovated Tianjin Railway Station. - 

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Today bullet trains begin running in China, from Beijing to Shanghai in what is now the world's longest high-speed rail network.

Marketplace China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz compares the Chinese lines to what we have going here in the U.S.

ROB SCHMITZ: So let's say you live in Chicago and you want to take the Amtrak to New York. If the train's on time, it'll take you 18 hours. Beijing to Shanghai's around the same distance. On the new bullet train, that's a five-hour trip. Just like with everything else these days, China's faster.

ROBERT CRUICKSHANK: China understands correctly that you need to make the big investment in sustainable transportation if you're going to be competitive in the 21st century.

Robert Cruickshank writes the California High Speed Rail blog.

CRUICKSHANK: Here in the U.S., we're simply not willing to go ahead and make that investment, or at least our Congress isn't, without realizing that if you don't invest in the future, you're not going to have one.

The U.S. government has set aside $7 billion for high-speed rail. China's central government has invested 3$09 billion. It's taken China around five years to build that network. Cruickshank says funding problems and environmental regulations mean a 15 to 20 year wait in the U.S.

In Shanghai, I'm Rob Schmitz, for Marketplace.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz