Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Bering Strait Tunnel approved

with 10 comments

I did not see this story in our mainstream media this week. It came me from a secondary source that cited The Times and when I did a Google news search I could not find that either but I did get a piece from the Daily Mail. This is the précis from the secondary source

Russia has unveiled an ambitious plan to build the world’s longest tunnel under the Bering Strait as part of a transport corridor linking Europe and America via Siberia and Alaska. The 64-mile (103km) tunnel would connect the far east of Russia with Alaska, opening up the prospect of a rail journey across three quarters of the globe from London to New York. The link would be twice as long as the Channel Tunnel connecting Britain and France. The tunnel across the international date line would be built in three sections through two islands in the Bering Strait and would link 6,000km (3,728 miles) of new railway lines. The tunnel alone would cost an estimated $10-12 billion to construct. Russian Railways is said to be examining the construction of a 3,500km route from Pravaya Lena, south of Yakutsk, to Uelen on the Bering Strait. The tunnel would connect this to a 2,000km line from Cape Prince of Wales, in West Alaska, to Fort Nelson, in Canada.

Now, since it ends up in BC you would have thought, perhaps, that local news sources might have picked it up. Not according to Google.

For one thing, the Port of Metro Vancouver continues to talk about expansion even though their case looks increasingly thin. After all we already face a rapidly changing world as the new Panama Canal and an ice free North West Passage both will cut shipping time and cost. While the UK press naturally likes the story of a round the world trip by train from London to New York, the real issue is going to be the movement of freight, especially containers, between the far east and the United States. This is the market that the Port thinks will expand. I think this in itself is a bit dubious, given the precarious nature of the US economy. But whatever the size of the market a direct train service from China to North America would drastically cut shipping times and by pass sea ports altogether. Moreover such a route could be electrified – and not just the bit under the Strait – meaning it would cut dependence on increasingly scarce and expensive oil for transportation.

For BC a direct rail link also means that our exports of coal, lumber and oil could also start moving by train – but I think that is less likely given the fact that these lower value cargoes are more cost than time sensitive.

But in any event it really does show how sensitive transportation forecasts are to assumptions. And you can be sure that a trans Bering Strait tunnel was not included in any of the Gateway’s forecasts.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2011 at 8:38 am

10 Responses

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  1. I have a couple of concerns. One is the seismic activity on the proposed tunnel route. The other is the frightening prospect of competing with trainloads of British tourists for rooms at the Fort Nelson Hotel.

    Randobarf

    August 26, 2011 at 11:58 am

  2. Pretty pie in the sky…

    Warren

    August 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm

  3. All talk – no funding. Like most of the other Russian “projects”.

    Dejan K

    August 27, 2011 at 5:44 pm

  4. Not wanting to sound negative, only realistic:
    How much for a rail line that can safely (2 tracks, not too many twists and turns) carry long trains day in, day out, from Alaska to Washington state?

    Nice dream though ….

    Red frog

    August 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm

  5. Sounds pretty unrealistic, but to note, there has long been talk of building a rail line from Fort Nelson to Alaska even without any sort of tunnel, simply so that not everything had to be trucked up and down the Alaska Highway. There’s been plenty of work and study in the last 10 years but as far as I know nothing beyond that, and certainly no funding.

    Tessa

    August 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

  6. The Seikan Tunnel under the Tsugaru Strait in Japan is 33.5 miles long. So a 64 mile tunnel built in three sections does not seem unlikely. Granted there are financing issues – and August was always known as “the silly season” in UK pressrooms. But I am a bit long in the tooth and I have heard all kinds of things dismissed as “unrealistic” in my time which now are in daily use. So I am not quite so ready to dismiss ideas like this out of hand.

    Stephen Rees

    August 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm

  7. Well okay. It is possible, but didn’t the Seikan Tunnel take something like 20 years to construct? And is this just a paper announcement, or is there actual funding in place? It probably hasn’t been covered in the local press because the whole thing smells like a publicity stunt.

    And even if the Russian’s pony up the dough to build the tunnel to Alaska, who is going to pay to connect the tunnel to the CN line at Fort Nelson? CN? It would cost a fortune. And they already have a newly upgraded line to Prince Rupert, and the old main-line to Vancouver. Would the train traffic really increase that much over the 2 current Pacific connects to make such an investment pay off?

    I know a connect to Alaska was the big dream in the WAC Bennett era, but there are reasons the project collapsed.

    I love myself a good mega-project, but lets be honest. Even if it isn’t a publicity stunt, this thing is 30 or 40 years away at best.

    Alex - (@Alex_AniPac)

    August 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm

  8. The Bering Railway is likely a long ways off. But I’d predict the wait will not be as long as 40 years when the price of liquid petroleum fuel exceeds $200/barrel, likely before this decade is over, barring a worldwide longlasting economic collapse — which could very well be brought on by shortgages and skyrocketing prices in oil.

    The route will also likely end up at a major terminus like Chicago via Edmonton and Winnipeg, and leave the West Coast with only marginal improvements in connectivity. BC has a lot of value-added lumber products that are currently very interesting to Asian markets, but I wonder if bulk exports of coal and minerals and grain would be any cheaper by rail than by ship, especially to places like Japan that has no land connections to Asia.

    Passengers may well demand a high-speed rail service (pray tell like the European model, not like the flawed and dangerous Chinese system). Who on Earth wants to be cooped up in economy class on a slow-moving, freight-dominated milk run for 6,000+ km? Who would fund a separate HSR service under the Bering Strait as well as one designed for heavy freight?

    Regarding the NW Passage, one analysis I read recently places the Siberian coastal route on a higher priority than zigging and zagging through Canada’s Arctic Islands. It’s quicker and shorter from the North Sea to Asia via a soon-to-be ice-free summer Siberian coast.

    Lastly, those who would classify this as pure fantasy, just look at the gargantuan trade markets between Euro-Asia and North America. Twelve billion (maybe it’ll end up being 25 billion once the inevitable cost overruns are accounted for) is a drop of salt water in the Bering Strait by comparison.

    MB

    September 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm

  9. > But I am a bit long in the tooth and I have heard all kinds of things dismissed as “unrealistic” in my time which now are in daily use.

    Indeed. Two long time pipe dreams that actually were built in the ’90s come to mind, the bridge to PEI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederation_Bridge#Early_proposals and of course the tunnel linking Britain to Europe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Tunnel#Proposals_and_attempts. Some (PEI) take decades, some (Channel Tunnel) take centuries,

    Some though are truly unlikely in our lifetimes… Maybe by the next millennium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_tunnel

    The Other David

    September 10, 2011 at 11:54 pm

  10. This bering strait tunnel is abrilliant testament. To the present future and the history of man. Unfortunately progress is usuallytagged by conservative voices. Passage between CANADa and the US also between Mexico and the US. Is hinderered by the interests of particular specific groups. Progress shall rule!

    peter hamlin

    September 26, 2011 at 11:04 am


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