back to article Kremlin green lights Siberia-Alaska tunnel

In a couple of decades, you may be able to board a train at London's St Pancras Station, chug through the Chunnel traveling east, and – eventually – end up at New York City's Grand Central Station, having never disembarked. Yes, that 65-mile tunnel under the Bering Strait separating Siberia and Alaska, first proposed in 2007, is …

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Coat

Non-trivial issue

There are no rails anywhere close to Nome - indeed Alaska is not connected to the North American rail network. And I'm not sure the position is much better on the Russian side - it's a long way to Yakutsk (~2,000 miles). So it's a bit more complicated than 'merely' building a 65-mile tunnel (though that would surely be the most technically demanding part).

I think the initial idea would be to transport by road up to the railheads on each side. I wouldn't count on being able to take the train from St Pancras to Grand Central for a little while yet!

The anorak, please ...

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More rail than road in Siberia

"And I'm not sure the position is much better on the Russian side - it's a long way to Yakutsk (~2,000 miles)."

Yakutsk is already on the Amur-Yakutsk Mainline, connecting the Trans-Siberian Railway (from Moscow) with Magadan, on the Okhotsk Sea.

As the route at Tynda is not so far from the Chinese border, I guess the Chinese might be interested in the rail link for sending freight, eastwards and westwards.

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Transport of moderately high value goods will justify the project

The transport of moderately high value goods will justify the project.

Electronics, automobiles, etc. between North America and China, Japan, Western Europe and India.

Shaving one to two months off the journey by using rail instead of ships will be worth it.

The Russians will have to fund their rail link and the tunnel themselves, or else put in iron clad guarantees and treaties to protect foreign investors in the tunnel.

I don't know that Russia has established sufficient integrity that it can make an iron clad guarantee sane foreign business people would take seriously (it can try, but it would just be laughed at).

The railway to Alaska can be justified by the US federal government by the growth of the Chinese blue water navy -- a railway to Alaska is becoming a national security necessity.

And the crossing point is far north of the active earth quake zone, far to the north of the notorious Pacific Ring of Fire.

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Transport of moderately high value goods...?

That's not enough justification. Clearly, the proponents of this fantasy have never tried infrastructure construction and maintenance in Alaska. Multiply all proposed costs by 10 - then start adding over-run costs. And that applies to transit costs to, if such a quixotic scheme were ever carried through to fruition.

You'd need values in excess of that of crude oil to pay for construction and maintenance The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline barely managed to get authorized, and it's moving a strategic resource!

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Sensible

When oil prices rise, even a huge detour might be still more economical than going by boat.

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Unlikely

Ships are pretty much the most efficient way of moving anything, my figures are a bit out of date but back in 2001 it was only something like 22p to move a pair of trainers from the factory in the far east to the UK.

Obviously it helps some if the ship is carrying a few thousand containers of them.

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Nah,

Freight transport by ship on a weight per distance basis is very fuel efficient.

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The slowness of ships means high interest payments on goods in transit

Yes, ships are cheap. But they are also very slow.

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Happy

Staggering

In pretty much every sense of the word.

Even handier they could string some large power cables inside and sell electricity from some of those Siberian reactors that seem to be still running.

Now does that price factory in the "OC" tax?

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Enormous hydro and nuclear power capacity in North America

The part of North America where the tunnel goes though has enormous untapped hydro-electric potential.

Plus lots of safe places to build nuclear reactors without the loosing most of the power in transmission.

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...has enormous untapped hydro-electric potential

No it doesn't. It has large rivers, sure enough - that ice up much of the year. And have you ever tried building a dam in artic conditions? Good bloody luck.

Likewise, ever tried building ANYTHING on permafrost? Not to mention the conservationist and native lobbies. Bloody nightmare, that's what it is.

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Simple solution...

Let Bill Gates contribute to the project. The current budget is only half his net worth, and with the royalties from the project, it might make as much money as Windows, who knows...

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Too much risk for one man

Gates would be a fool -- too much risk for one man.

Besides, he is donating his wealth to charity. I don't think Putin's pocket qualifies as a charity.

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FAIL

Never disembarked?

With all the differences in Loading gauge and track gauge I find that hard to accept.

Unless the russians will relay the change (several thousand miles) of the Trans Siberian to 4ft 8.5in gauge that is.

Fail simply because the openeing statement is just wishful thinking.

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Another non-trivial issue

Although it is possible to change track gauge on the move, as happens at the French/Spanish, Polish/Ukraine and Swedish/Finnish borders.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_gauge

Loading gauge just means running to the lowest standard (the UK being the worst case), but HS1 is built to continental standards.

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Stop

Track gauge isn't the only problem

Isn't the Bering Strait a geological fault, widening at the rate of so many cm per year? Would tend to make the tunnel foundations somewhat shaky.

The same problem affects the equally wishful proposal for an Atlantic tunnel that raises its head from time to time - any such tunnel would need to get past (best bet is over) the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a continuous line of mostly underwater volcanoes from Iceland to Tristan da Cunha.

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Changing guages means moving container from one car to another

In this day and age of container traffic railway gauges are an insignificant barrier.

By ship, the containers would be put on trucks or rail cars, then put on ships, then taken off ships to be put back on rail cars or trucks.

Changing rail gauges simply means moving the containers from one flat car to another.

And for bulk cargo, you simply empty the sending ore car or grain car into the receiving car. It is not a problem, a minor operational cost.

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This post has been deleted by its author

The Uelen to Nome crossing is far to the north of the active fault areas.

The Uelen to Nome crossing is far to the north of the active fault areas.

http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/html_docs/pdf_files/eqprepare.pdf -- See page 13 for the fault map.

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Nah. Ain't gonna happen.

Cost/benefit analysis says no.

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Who?

Well last I checked Alberta had more than 100 bil invested in the oil patch. That link goes straight thru the patch to China. Not sure if tankers or rail would be cheaper but we'd sure love to have more than one failing ex-super power as a customer. Hell run a pipeline directly alongside the rail line.

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Alert

Re: Who?

"Well last I checked Alberta had more than 100 bil invested in the oil patch."

Are you referring to Alberta's tar sands or something else? Given that Siberia is a bit more convenient for China and has substantial natural resources without scraping the bottom of the oil barrel, as it were, there's a substantial amount of stuff that the Russians could do in their own back yard with the cash being talked about here before thinking about importing marginal oil from Canada.

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WTF?

Not gonna happen

Politics will insure it doesn't get built.

Money will insure it never gets funded.

A major faultline that causes Russia and and Alaska to creep towards each other at 2.5cm/year (or 1 inch per year for you imperial types) will insure it never gets used.

So nice kumbaya, but ... pointless.

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Re: Fault line

I'm not a geologist, but according to this Alaska & Eastern Siberia are both on the same plate:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plates_tect2_en.svg

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Joke

Will happen.......eventually....

Those inches add up. Making it a project that gets easier all the time.

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Headmaster

Pedantry ahoy

For the love of dog - its 'ensure'. 'insure' means something completely different.

insure:

Arrange for compensation in the event of damage to or loss of (property), or injury to or the death of (someone), in exchange for regular advance payments to a company

ensure:

Make certain that (something) shall occur or be the case.

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The fault line is the big thing

"Never" is a long time, politics change, and economics change.

What I don't think they can overcome is the fault line -- that fault will not be going away.

But then there is a fault -- albeit much less active -- between the UK and France, and why doesn't that jeapordize the Chunnel?

But if no tunnel, then there will be a bridge. It is inevitable, within 50 years.

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The crossing is far to the north of the most active fault areas.

Yes you aren't. But you do have a good point! Thank you. It turns out the Uelen to Nome crossing is far to the north of the most active fault areas.

According to that wikipedia map, all of North America is on one plate, except for part of Mexico. And all of Italy is on one plate. But there are faults inside Canada, the USA, Mexico and Italy.

Obviously the map is talking about major collections of plates, broken plates as it were, plates broken by fault lines.

http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/html_docs/pdf_files/eqprepare.pdf -- See page 13 for the fault map.

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Boffin

No fault (so no blame, no compo)

The gulf between England and France is not due to a widening fault. Many moons ago they were joined. Gradual sinking of the entire formation first let the sea cross what was once a saddle-point, erosion has done the rest.

The only really active fault line in GB is the Great Glen up in the heelands o' Scotland. Gives us the occasional magnitude 3 to 4 earthquake (the last big one was in 1979) but is otherwise mostly harmless.

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Meh

Phase 2

If it ever happens, the next phase will have to be something transatlantic - not just to complete to circuit, but to negate Russia's stranglehold on the line.

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MJI
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Would need standard gauge all the way

And what would be the first train to circumnavigate the world?

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And also...

...there's no rail connection between Alaska and the 48 states...

...and Russian gauge is wider than standard gauge...

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A railway to Alaska is not a mega project

And the gauge issue is meaningless in this day and age of container traffic.

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US now needs an Alaska railway for national security

Because of China's emerging blue water navy, I expect that the USA will decide it needs a rail connection to Alaska for national security reasons, no longer being able to rely 100% on the safety of ship traffic in the Pacific.

Also rail is far far faster than ship, and can carry far far more cargo than aircraft.

But I do not expect the rail line to sweep across northern Canada like that. I expect it would go south through Alberta Canada to Montana or North Dakota.

So connection to Russia or not, I see a rail link to Alaska coming within the next 20 years.

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A railway to Alaska is not a mega project

But a railway to Nome *IS.*

Clearly, you've never built anything under artic conditions.

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MJI
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Gauge

Either use adjustable bogies, or bogie swapping, or make new lines in Russia standard guage.

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Also...

...there is the cost of massively increasing rail capacity from Alaska to the rest of United States. I'm guessing it's not very high at the minute, though could be wrong.

I think the engineering and political risks of this tunnel are too great to justify starting work on it - the eventual cost could be massively more than $99bn, then some nutter (on either side of the Bering Strait - look at the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates) might close the thing down.

Nah.

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crikey

its bad enough for the chunnel. I cant imagine the red tape for this rail link.

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Anonymous Coward

It's a start

But do they still have any working railways in N.America for the tunnel to connect to?

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Rail networks very important for freight here in North America

Yes we do. And they are well used. But they're almost exclusively used for freight.

The distances are too great for passenger travel. London to Berlin is about the same distance as the length of California or the width of Montana. Things are very spread out here.

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MJI
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US passenger trains are too slow

Even IC 125 speeds would make a big difference let alone TGV/Eurostar speeds.

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Trollface

Who will pay...

BHP of course. They could use some of the 22b they make from digging up dirt in WA to bankroll the project. Better yet, considering that dirt will be made into the steel used in the tunnel, they could ship the dirt from Siberia back to WA to fill up the holes. Everyone wins! (except the Oz public)

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Unhappy

What does the UK bring to the party?

We have one of the most expensive, yet unreliable rail networks in the developed world. Are we there to provide a shining example of how not to do it?

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MJI
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But some of the best engineers JUST

Until they retire.

What have they done recently?

Fast reliable Diesel train (also fastest)

High speed 4 axle loco bogie

Undersea tunnel

Most powerful loco in Europe

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MJI
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Facepalm

Mistake

I meant high speed 3 axle/6 wheel

AGHHHH

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Why not use boats?

I thought they were more cost-efficient than trains over long distances?

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Ships too slow for iPhone transit

Ships are too slow for things like iPhones and automobiles.

1. Technology changes too fast.

2. The finance charges of goods in transit is expensive.

I expect ships will still be used for grain, coal, and metal ores. That is where the article has it wrong. The rail link is justified for moderate and high price goods, not cheap bulk transport. That is what has always been said in past proposals.

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Facepalm

Re: Ships too slow for iPhone transit

"Ships are too slow for things like iPhones and automobiles."

Yeah, that's right: by the time a ship has set sail with the iPhone 5 and the latest Hyundai and travelled across the globe to the nearest port to the impatient consumers, the "full-body experience" iPhone Matrix and Hyundai Interstellar Flying Space Car will be out, and the punters will be tossing their newly arrived gadgets into the sea.

Newsbolt: ships aren't *that* slow these days; it's not some guy with a leather mask and a whip at the helm any more, you know.

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Re:Ships too slow for iPhone transit

Sorry, could you just confirm how they're getting iPhones and automobiles from the Far East to Europe these days? It's just I don't think they're flying them here and it all seems to be working out ok with that whole month in transit.

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Technology changes too fast.

And any technology manufacturer which doesn't already have the new shiny things shipped and waiting to go on the shelves by the launch date isn't going to be around for long.

Consumer goods aren't built to order. They're built to meet projected demand at the time they hit the stores. Sometimes the projections are a bit off, which is why you end up with shortages on unexpectedly popular items and warehouses stacked full of HP TouchPads nobody wanted to buy at the MSRP.

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