siberian-alaska-railway

The 64-mile tunnel would connect the far east of Russia with Alaska.

Plans to build the world’s longest tunnel have been unveiled in Russia.  The tunnel will run 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 the ultimate rail trip 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 $65 billion (£33 billion) mega-project aims to transform trade links between Russia and its former Cold War enemies across some of the world’s most desolate terrain. It would create a high-speed railway line, energy links and a fibreoptic cable network.

Proposals for a tunnel under the Bering Strait were first advanced a century ago under Tsar Nicholas II but foundered with the outbreak of the First World War and the Russian Revolution. The idea was revived after the collapse of the Soviet Union but was shelved once again in Russia’s financial meltdown of 1998.

Russian officials insist that the tunnel is an economic idea whose time has now come and that it could be ready within ten years. They argue that it would repay construction costs by stimulating up to 100 million tons of freight traffic each year, as well as supplying oil, gas and electricity from Siberia to the US and Canada.

Maxim Bystrov, deputy head of Russia’s agency for special economic zones, said: “This will be a business project, not a political one.” 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.

The scheme is being championed by Viktor Razbegin, deputy head of industrial research at Russia’s Economic and Trade Development Ministry. He has long advocated a tunnel under the Bering Strait to provide a land route between Russia and the US, and published a feasibility study in the 1990s.

He told journalists that state and commercial companies would form a public-private partnership to fund and run the project. A conference in Moscow next week will propose an inter-governmental agreement with the US to underwrite construction of the transport link in return for a stake in the business.

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.

The project could save Siberia and the US $20 billion a year in electricity costs, according to Vasily Zubakin, deputy chief executive of Hydro, a subsidiary of Russia’s main electricity producer, Unified Energy Systems. The company plans to build two giant tidal plants in the Far East to supply tengiga-watts of electricity by 2020.

However, some of those said to be involved in the project appeared sceptical. Sergei Grigoryev, vice-president of the state oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, said: “I’ve never heard of this plan. We need to first develop fields in East Siberia.”

Others also questioned whether it made economic sense, pointing out that Alaska has large oil reserves of its own and that China’s huge market was closer and more lucrative.

The tunnel on the Russian side would start in the Chukotka region, governed by Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea FC, who appears unlikely to plough his fortune into such a risky venture.

Via The Times

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