What happened to the planned submarine rail line from China to the United States?

Seven years ago a report emerged that China was “in talks” over building a high-speed rail line that would run northeast of Beijing, travel 8,077 miles (13,000 km) through Siberia, then run 124 miles (200 km) under water, crossing the Bering Strait to Alaska.

The ambitious plan – reported by many media at the time – would strengthen China’s impressive high-speed rail network and boost trade between China, Russia, Canada and the United States

Like a night train passing in the distance, however, the rumblings surrounding the project quickly dissipated, and little has been heard of the plan since.

Stuck on tracks: delays for $ 200 billion rail project

At the moment, there do not appear to be any immediate plans to move forward with the rail project, which would extend beyond Alaska and also cross Canada before reaching the United States – the project has been imaginatively dubbed the “China-Russia-Canada-America” line. at the time.

Recent reports could provide an indication of why the project appears to be on hold. According to Morning Message from South China, the plans have been heavily criticized because of their proposed initial budget of $ 200 billion.

Critics pointed out that flights and freighters are a cheaper option for commerce and that their infrastructure is already in place.

Then there is the engineering and logistics side of the problem. The tunnel would be an unprecedented undertaking, about four times the size of today’s longest underwater tunnels – the Channel Tunnel connecting the UK and France, and the Seikan Tunnel connecting Hokkaido and Honshu in Japan, both about 30 miles (about 50 km). km) long.

Could the “China-Russia-Canada-America line” still happen?

There are still indications that the project could possibly go ahead – although relations between the United States and China are likely to improve before that can materialize.

The original 2014 report claimed that China was already advanced in negotiations with Russia – which had been considering a line under the Bering Strait for years – to begin work on the line, with engineers from both countries confident that the project was possible using current technologies.

As IFL Science points out, China approved the world’s first high-speed submarine train in 2018, showing that high-speed rail technology is feasible under the sea. The planned high-speed train project will span 77 km from Ningbo, a port city near Shanghai, on the islands of the Zhousan Archipelago off the east coast. 10 miles of this road will go underwater (16.2 kilometers).

Although the Ningbo-Zhousan line is much smaller than the Channel Tunnel, it will form a kind of test project for submarine maglev rail lines. China will likely turn to a larger project, such as the “China-Russia-Canada-America line”, if the Ningbo-Zhousan line is successful.

Green rail references stimulate massive infrastructure projects

Greener infrastructure projects could give the China-Russia-Canada-America line project the boost it needs, as governments, including those in China and the United States, will likely continue to invest. massively into the rail over the next few years due to its green credentials.

In the United States, for example, rail is responsible for only 2 percent emissions from the transport sector, although it accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s long-haul freight volume.

Many rail innovations, including highly efficient automated rail inspection, also mean that such a project is likely technologically feasible.

While plans for the China-Russia-Canada-America line currently appear to be at a standstill, it is likely that we will one day see a line connecting Siberia and Alaska in some form or another – plans for the tunnel under Channel were delayed for over a hundred years before the tunnel opened in 1994.

There has been no official communication on the project in recent years, which means it may still be in the works. We will be sure to follow up and keep you informed of the latest developments.

About Kevin Strickland

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