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, …

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  1. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Sensible

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

  2. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    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?

  4. Herby Silver badge

    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...

  5. Chris Miller
    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 ...

    1. Chris Miller

      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.

      1. Blue eyed boy
        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.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Keith T

          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.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      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.

    3. Anonymous Coward 101

      Nah,

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

      1. Keith T

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

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

    4. JohnG Silver badge

      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.

      1. Keith T

        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.

        1. laird cummings

          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!

    5. Keith T

      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.

    6. Keith T

      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.

    7. Keith T

      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.

      1. laird cummings
        Thumb Down

        ...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.

  6. dfgraham
    Thumb Up

    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.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  8. jake Silver badge

    Nah. Ain't gonna happen.

    Cost/benefit analysis says no.

    1. My Alter Ego

      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

      1. Keith T

        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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

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

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

    3. Tom 38 Silver badge
      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.

    4. Keith T

      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.

      1. Blue eyed boy
        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.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  9. the Accountant
    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.

  10. Dom 3

    And also...

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

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

  11. Anonymous Coward 101
    Thumb Down

    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.

  12. Danny 14 Silver badge

    crikey

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

    1. Keith T

      A railway to Alaska is not a mega project

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

      1. laird cummings
        Thumb Down

        A railway to Alaska is not a mega project

        But a railway to Nome *IS.*

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

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Gauge

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

    2. Keith T

      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.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Would need standard gauge all the way

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

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a start

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

    1. Keith T

      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.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        US passenger trains are too slow

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

  14. Michael Xion
    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)

  15. Red Bren
    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?

  16. ratfox Silver badge

    Why not use boats?

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

    1. Keith T

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. SkippyBing Silver badge

        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.

      3. Paul RND*1000

        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.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      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

      1. MJI Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Mistake

        I meant high speed 3 axle/6 wheel

        AGHHHH

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deceptivity of numbers

    Does 60mrd quid really buy you this tunnel? Probably not. The Dutch "betuweroute" freight railway was supposed to cost about one mrd euros, but turned out to cost about five or so. And it hasn't managed to so much as break even yet.

    But assume 60mrd will work out. Then does 7mrd in revenues pay for that thing in nine years? Heck no. That's revenues, not profit. Likewise, a hundred million tons a year boils down to 2km of heavy ore train coming through that tunnel every hour. I don't know if that's reasonable, but it does seem an awful lot, especially for the back of beyond.

    The plans sound nice, but whether that investment will actually pay for itself this century is something else entirely. And that is assuming everything goes as planned, and we all know what happens when starry-eyed plans get let out into the real world.

  18. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Blow the freight

    London to NYC the pretty way, by rail, is just so cool.

    And by the time it's finished, it'll be right for my pensioners' free rail pass!

    1. Code Monkey
      Trollface

      London to NYC

      The replacement bus service wouldn't be so cool.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      I want to use a Deltic

      Might as well do it in style.

      Imagine that arriving in the US.

  19. Mike Richards Silver badge
    Pirate

    Fantastic idea

    It'll go right past Palin's front window.

    I bet she'll have a seizure if this ever gets mentioned to her.

    So anyone want to mention it to her?

    1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      @Fantastic idea

      If you can guarantee the toxic wench would have a *terminal* seizure then you could probably fund this project by sales of lottery tickets for the honour.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      The REAL Palin will be on the train

      Doing another travel programme

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Does anyone know

    Sarah Palin's thoughts on this?

    1. Winkypop Silver badge
      Trollface

      Not only but also...

      ....Not only can we see Russia from our porch, we can pop over by train and buy some cheap vodka.

  21. Lars Silver badge
    Holmes

    @Keith T

    I agree, charity is a much better business.

  22. Ben Holmes
    Thumb Up

    I realise it will probably not happen anytime soon...

    ...but London to NYC by trans-Siberian train would be an epic trip to take. And, lets be honest, the fares can't be any worse than the current rates on the British rail network.

  23. Lars Silver badge
    Pint

    Speed

    Speed of ships and trains. To travel from Helsinki to Peking takes one week. So I suppose a trip from

    London to New York would take close to three weeks. So I suppose ships are not that slow after all.

    I have never done that Helsinki Peking trip, but people who have done it find it rather interesting.

    You have those 3x8 hours, eating (and drinking) 8 hours is OK. Then you can sleep 8 hours and that is OK too. Then remains the third 8 hours and that can be a problem unless you like chess.

    1. Chris Miller

      Up to a point

      The view from the tracks in China can be fascinating, but the Trans-Siberian consists of a week spent watching birch trees going past 5m from the window - an exercise in sensory deprivation or a vodka-drinking contest depending on how you want to play it. Transcontinental US is much more varied and interesting and the double-deck Superliner observation cars provide a very good view (and the food is much better), but even then there's a lot of:

      "Are we still in Nebraska?"

      <Glances out of window at another bunch of cows>

      "Yup."

      1. HereIAmJH

        Amtrak

        You wouldn't have to worry about Nebraska on a London to NYC trip. The only Amtrak route through Nebraska is the California Zephyr. No point going down the coast to San Francisco to catch the Zephyr when you can pick up the Empire Builder in Seattle. Western Washington State and Montana are definitely worth seeing.

        On the bright side though, if you do have to go through California, the Zephyr goes through Nebraska at night so you can sleep and not see those scary cows.

        1. Chris Miller
          Thumb Up

          ROFL

          You think the Amtrak timetable is reliable enough to judge whether you'll be passing a given point during the day or night? Oh, my aching sides!

          Seriously though, if this journey were ever possible (and, if so, I'd love to take it), the shortest and fastest route would be across Canada to Toronto and then on down the Hudson Valley to NYC. So replace 'Nebraska' with 'Saskatchewan' and cows with 'wheat', and my comment stands.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Combine the vodka and chess

    Shot of vodka every time you're in check. Shot of vodka every time you lose a piece. Finish the bottle if you lose the game.

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