China is no stranger to immense feats of engineering and has shown itself capable of throwing up hydroelectric dams, subway systems and skyscrapers in times that make other countries jealous. Now one prominent engineer has announced that the country wants to build several high-speed railway lines connecting the Middle Kingdom to Europe and North America.
Wang Mengshu (王梦恕), a designer at the Chinese Academy of Engineering told the Beijing Times that continent-spanning tracks radiating out from China were in the "discussions" phase. Perhaps the most audacious and unrealistic of the railway lines mentioned by the engineer was one that, if built, would connect China to the United States. Wang maintained that while political hurdles remain, Russia "has already been thinking about this for many years".
The proposed route would travel north from China via Siberia before passing through a 200-kilometer long underwater tunnel in the Bering Sea. It would then head south through Alaska and Canada before connecting to an unspecified city in the United States. Trains would theoretically travel more than 13,000 kilometers at speeds of over 200 kilometers per hour, making the trip in roughly two days.
Wang also outlined ideas for two tracks crossing Central Asia with final destinations in Berlin and London, respectively. In a write-up of the story, reporters for English newspaper The Guardian were quick to point out that "no [other] railway experts" have come forward to endorse any of the projects.
Beijing Times reporters who filed the original report were also somewhat skeptical. They pointed out that China could not possibly afford the "astronomical" price of such projects by itself. Technical issues would also be a concern. Foremost among those would be construction of the undersea tunnel joining Asia and North America. Perhaps less challenging, but nonetheless daunting, would be the engineering feats necessary to build tracks that would pass through diverse climates and geological areas.
Eye-popping railway projects are not particularly uncommon in China. Five years ago, China's then-Minister of Railways Liu Zhiju articulated a scheme that would link coastal Fujian province with Taiwan. Although officials maintain the technology to build such a rail line exists, no concrete moves or funding efforts have been announced publicly.
Closer to reality is the Kunming-Singapore regional rail network. Negotiations between China and several of its Southeast Asian neighbors have been ongoing for seven years. The concept, which was once given a completion date of 2015, has stalled due to lack of funding and may be further put on hold due to territorial water disputes (requires proxy) now playing themselves out between China and Vietnam.
One region where China is poised to lay prodigious amount of track is East Africa. Premier Li Keqiang recently signed an agreement with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, finalizing plans for a 23.7 billion yuan (US$3.8 billion) railway from Mombasa to Nairobi. It is expected to be finished and ready for freight and passenger traffic in 2018.
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