As utopian as it sounds, an old plan to build a rail line between China and the US has been recently alive again. What are the main challenges for its realization, and what could be the impact of freight transportation on this route?
With the name “China-Russia-Canada-America line,” as China first launched the idea in 2014, the 13,000km-long railway line would start in mainland China, run through Siberia, pass under the sea through the Bering Strait into Alaska, continue on Canada, and end finally in the US.
This far-reaching tunnel would be the longest in the world at more than 103 km, compared to the currently longest 50-km Channel Tunnel between the UK and France.
The ambitious project, which would be the finishing touch of the “Belt and Road initiative” and connect the world by rail, will require buy-in from China, Russia, Canada, and the US, which is nearly unfeasible with the current political situation.
The China-US rail network would provide capacity for some 100 million tonnes of freight – accounting for 8% of the total cargo shipment each year between Europe, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and the US.
Although the project is technically possible, building three parallel tunnels under the Bering Strait will take 12-15 years, not to mention the sky-high costs and the tense political relations between the countries involved.
In addition to the underwater tunnel, there are also currently many missing links requiring new infrastructure. On the Russian side, the closest terminus lies 3,000km away, while in Alaska, the project would require 1,200km of a new rail line. What makes things more complicated is that Russian and American railways use different track gauges.
It is this missing infrastructure that gives the project a huge financial challenge. The estimated total costs are around $200 billion, which according to the critics, is out of proportion. As the shipping routes already exist, it is more viable to continue shipping by ocean, which is the often-heard argument of opponents.
Until all the countries can reach a strong consensus and finalize the funding plan, the China-Russia-Canada-America line still remains a dream project.
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