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Russian Railways Wants To Build An Insanely Long Train That Runs From Europe To North America

“This is an inter-state, inter-civilization project.” But is it even a good idea?

Russian Railways Wants To Build An Insanely Long Train That Runs From Europe To North America
[Top Photo: Dmitry Laudin via Shutterstock]

If the head of Russian Railways gets his wish, you might eventually be able to take a train–or drive–from Paris to Los Angeles to New York.

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As reported in a recent Siberian Times article, Vladamir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways, wants to build a massive highway and rail line crossing Russia’s 5,592 miles–and then link that route up with Alaska by crossing the Bering Strait. On the eastern end, the route would connect with rail lines in Europe.

“This is an inter-state, inter-civilization project,” Yakunin told the Siberian Times.

It’s not the first time the idea has come up. The possibility of bridging the Bering Strait was tossed around as early as the 1800s. In 2007, reportedly, the Russian government approved a proposal to build a tunnel to Alaska, though nothing has been built yet. Last year, the Chinese government said that it’s also interested in linking up with Alaska through an underwater tunnel.

oriontrail via Shutterstock

In 1958, in the middle of the Cold War, U.S. engineer T.Y. Lin, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, proposed building a Bering Strait crossing as a “peace bridge.” In a feasibility study at the time, he estimated the cost at around $1 billion. In his design, the bridge would essentially be a concrete-covered tube that protects steel parts, and cars inside, from the weather.

“Obviously the challenges then are the same today, which is primarily dealing with a very harsh, cold environment, and ice loading pushing on the piers that are in the water,” says Marwan Nader, vice president and technical director of the bridge line of business for T.Y. Lin International, the engineering firm Lin founded.

“Today, with the technological advancement, it’s that much more feasible than it was then,” Nader says. As the climate warms up, construction would also be simpler. “Obviously, longer summers would enable us to erect the bridge faster. As you can imagine, once it’s winter it’s very hard to navigate the waters over there.”

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If the bridge is built, it will only be one tiny part of the massive project–right now in Alaska, for example, no highway connects Nome to the rest of the state, and on the Russian side, more than 1,200 miles of highways and train tracks would be necessary.

But is it a good idea? The route would plow through one of the world’s last remaining large areas of wilderness, and make it possible to build new cities along the way. And driving from London to the U.S. probably doesn’t make much sense, from a perspective of either time or carbon footprint. But it’s possible that train trips, especially for shipping products, could actually be a good option–especially as more new zero-emission trains come online.

The biggest challenge, of course, is cost. The Siberian Times quoted a rough estimate of trillions of dollars, though Russian Railways argues that the cost would quickly be recovered.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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