Saturday, October 16, 2021

World’s Costliest Railway Project – Is China Planning An Underwater Rail Link Up To Alaska In The US?

As China operationalizes what it calls the fastest bullet train in Tibet, the country is also planning an underwater railway link up to the United States and Russia, according to reports.

On June 25, the communist nation created an engineering marvel by running a high-speed passenger train to the roof of the world. The train traversed through the high-altitude and difficult terrain of Tibet, connecting Lhasa to Nyingchi, close to India’s Arunachal Pradesh border.

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Over the years, the country has significantly increased its high-speed rail network and is also planning to build a number of underwater railway tunnels. The most ambitious has been China’s plan to build a railway link connecting the US, through Russia, Canada, and the Bering Strait.

In 2014, the Chinese media reported that plans were afoot for the construction of a high-speed railway line, nicknamed “China-Russia-Canada-America line” connecting China with the US, as part of the country’s ambitious “going-out” strategy of the country’s high-speed rail.

Though not much is known about the project yet, a recent report suggests that work may begin soon.

At the time, Wang Mengshu of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said that the railway line will start from north-eastern China and traverse further north through Siberia to the Bering Strait, and then through a tunnel, it will cross the Pacific Ocean, reaching Alaska, Canada and finally its destination, the US.

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The Bering Strait lies between the Pacific and the Arctic oceans, separating the Russian Chukchi Peninsula from the Seward Peninsula of Alaska. Wang Mengshu said that to cross the Strait, a 200 km long tunnel is required to be constructed.

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An artist’s impression of an underwater railway. (Image: Zhejiang Online)

The technology to build this subsea tunnel will be similar to the one being used for the construction of the high-speed rail tunnel from Fujian to Taiwan. The total estimated length of the rail line is about 13,000 kilometers. Traveling at a speed of 350 kmph, the journey from China to the US is expected to take about two days.

First proposed in 2014, China’s “going-out” proposal includes several railway projects, such as Eurasian High-Speed Rail, Central Asia High-Speed Rail, Pan-Asia High-Speed Rail, along with the China-US rail-link.

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The first line is expected to connect London, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Kyiv and Moscow, and subsequently will split into two different routes, one which will connect China through Kazakhstan and another through eastern Siberia.

The Central Asia high-speed rail will begin at Urumqi in China and then will pass through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, and then to Germany. The third rail line will begin at the Chinese city of Kunming connecting it to Singapore.

The construction of a high-speed train line that will pass through a sea tunnel in Shantou Bay, South China’s Guangdong Province.

According to the Chinese media, the proposed rail link between China and the US would be the most expensive megaproject in history, if materializes, according to Tech Startups. It is said Russia is already onboard.

Russia has also been contemplating a railway line under the Bering Strait for years, and both Russian and Chinese engineers are of the opinion that the tunnel can be successfully constructed with the existing technologies.

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Expected to be four times longer than the world’s longest rail tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel in Japan, the China-US railway project would be funded and constructed by China, China Daily reported. However, even after seven years, not much is known about the progress of the project.

According to another report, the total cost of the project would be more than $200 billion, which is approximately two-thirds of China’s current high-speed rail budget.

With the relations between China and the US at an all-time low, it may take some time before such a rail link involving such high costs and technological know-how can be envisaged.

China’s Growing Railway Network

China has significantly increased its high-speed rail network over the years. Today, it boasts of having the largest high-speed rail network in the world, stretching over 37,000 km.

The Shanghai Maglev, running at a speed of 431 kmph, linking Shanghai Pudong Airport and Longyang Road in the east of Shanghai, is one of the fastest trains in the world.

In 2018, China approved the construction of a high-speed rail link between Ningbo, a port city near Shanghai and Zhoushan, an archipelago on the east coast. The total length of the railway line is 77 km, out of which 16.2 km will be a subsea tunnel, the first subsea tunnel to be built by China.

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The train traveling at a speed of 250 kmph will approximately take about 80 minutes to reach Zhoushan from Ningbo.

According to some reports, it will be a Maglev train, which will be ascending on a magnetic track as it will be propelled along at high speeds.

The construction of the Ningbo-Zhoushan line has begun and experts believe it will serve as a trial for more ambitious Chinese underwater rail projects.

In March 2021, Global Times reported that China is discussing some technical issues and routes to construct the high-speed railway from Fujian Province in east China to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

Guidelines on the National Comprehensive Transportation Network Plan include several transportation links which are slated to be completed by 2035. The railway operator reportedly stated, “the dream that countless Chinese people have dreamt is finally drawing closer, as the Beijing-Taipei high-speed rail has only the last part, between the Straits left to be completed”.

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Chinese Rail Link Up To India Border

On June 25, Beijing also operationalized a fully-electrified bullet train service between Tibet’s capital Lhasa and Nyingchi, a strategically located border town opposite India’s Arunachal Pradesh, according to The Eurasian Times.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi section is part of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway and is operationalized ahead of the centenary celebrations of the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP) on July 1. The ‘Fuxing’ bullet train travels at a speed of 160 kmph. Running on a single line electrified railway, it can handle both passenger and freight transport.

The railway line coming close to India’s Arunachal Pradesh gives a strategic advantage to the Chinese. An expert from the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University said that in the case of a crisis at the China-India border, the railway line can be used to supply strategic materials to the Chinese army.

In an earlier report, The EurAsian Times had also mentioned that China has improved its infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The construction of the rail-line in Tibet not only gives strategic importance to China in a conflict with India, but is also a means for China to assert its sovereignty and supremacy over the region, countering the western claims of Tibetans’ right to self-determination, wrote Jayanta Kalita, Editor, The EurAsian Times.

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