The Possible Russian-American Straits Tunnel

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary The Russians have given this country a proposal to build a train tunnel under the ocean between Siberia and Alaska. The tunnel would go through the narrowest area between Russia and the United States—the Bering Straits—and through a point between both continents known as the Diomede Islands. The train tunnel would be similar to the tunnel that already exists between Great Britain and France under the English Channel. The Russian proposal is not new. In fact, Russian Tsar Nicholas II had proposed something similar back in the beginning of the 20th Century.

If constructed, the tunnel would cost U.S. $10 to $15 billion just for the tunnel alone and the project would take 10 to 15 years to build. The Bering Straits tunnel, if ever approved by both sides, would be twice as long as the tunnel between Great Britain and France. However, this tunnel would be based on the same technology as the English Channel tunnel. In order for this tunnel to work, Russia would have to build 4,000 kilometers more of special track to accommodate trains going to and coming back from the United States. The United States for its part would have to build 2,000 kilometers of new track to accommodate trains coming from and going to Russia. Since Russian tracks are twice as wide as American, special trains would have to be built with two gauge wheeling to be able to run on both Russian and American tracks.

Building all of this on the Russian side alone would cost Russia a whopping U.S. $80 to 90 billion (the U.S. side has not yet been figured out). While the costs may seem enormous, the potential is equally great. It would be possible to go from New York all the way to Moscow by an alternate non-flying route. Not only would it greatly boost tourism between Russia and the United States (including Canada since Russian and American tourist and cargo trains would be making stops in Canada as well), but it would also help out with goods being shipped to both countries. Indirectly goods from the European Union and China would have yet another route to go instead of by airplane or boat. This in turn could help to bring down the price of many consumer and industrial goods in the long run. Trade on this scale would greatly benefit the Russian economy which is looking for new markets to expand.

And while all of this sounds great, the problem is money and the will to do so. Russia has the will and might even have the money (although even this is a lot to cough up). The United States is financially broke and the political will both in the White House and the U.S. Congress is far from certain. Could such a project open up greater trade and with it new jobs and increase America’s already moribund manufacturing sector? Most certainly. The project could indeed do much to help America’s economy as well as Russia’s economy, and might even be possible to help lead the United States out of the Great Recession. In the realm of possibilities this is most certainly possible, and may be even desirable. But will there be those who are willing to do it? In my personal opinion I hope there will be.

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