What separates Russia from Alaska

Russia has an ambitious plan : By train from the Atlantic to Alaska

A direct connection from the Atlantic to Alaska. Through tundra and taiga. By road and rail. With S-Class bodies and high-speed trains that would cover the almost 21,000-kilometer route at a cruising speed of “only” 250 kilometers an hour in less than four days. It sounds like anticipating the distant future and it is. Railway chief Vladimir Jakunin had not even brought a computer simulation with him to the brainstorming session at the Russian Academy of Sciences, during which he promoted the project in front of hand-picked experts.

Plans to “link” the Asian and European parts of Russia and their neighbors with a network of highways and high-speed lines have long existed. But in reality, even routes such as the R504 - the Kolyma wing built by Gulag prisoners in eastern Siberia - are only accessible by off-road vehicles. And on the 600-kilometer route of the Russian State Railways (RZD) from Moscow to St. Petersburg, there are still places where the trains, designed for speeds of up to 400 kilometers per hour, have to slow down to 120. Other projects are currently on hold. Save, save and save again is the motto that Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has issued with a view to the drop in oil prices and the weak ruble.

Everything could fail because of the money

The trans-Eurasian project could also fail because of the stupid Mammon. Despite his personal friendship with Vladimir Putin, railway boss Jakunin has not even been able to come up with an approximate cost estimate. It is likely to be in the high three-digit billions. Critical media even juggle over $ 1 trillion. Because the route crosses extremely sparsely populated regions in Siberia without any infrastructure. In Yakutia, the distance from one village to another is hundreds of kilometers. There, at the latest, the extreme arctic climate strikes with full force. Rushing rivers have to be arched over, piles have to be driven deep into the permafrost, the top layer of which turns into mud in the short but violent Arctic summers.

The polar orbit that Stalin had built from 1946 onwards failed due to climate and nature. It was not until 2009 that a single-track, non-electrified section including a bridge was built that crosses the one and a half kilometers wide Ob near Selichard. Despite threats, Stalin's engineers had failed and had switched to a ferry. But the crossing of the Ob is a child's birthday compared to the tunnel construction in the Arctic Ocean, with which the trans-Eurasian project stands or falls. The tube under the Bering Strait must be at least 200 kilometers long. The sound, which is around 80 km wide at its narrowest point, separates the Chukchi Peninsula, which belongs to Russia, from Alaska, which Tsar Alexander II sold to the USA in 1867.

The project could also fail due to the general international weather situation. In addition to the Ukraine crisis, the fight for the Arctic is also a disruptive factor. Huge oil and gas deposits are stored in the international waters of the Northern Arctic Ocean, and climate change is making them increasingly profitable to mine. In addition to the actual neighbors, China and Japan are also involved.

Beijing could also play a key role in the Trans-Eurasia project, which includes fast transport links, a network of oil and gas pipelines and the construction of 15 large cities in the icy wasteland, which is why experts draw comparisons with the extensive electrification of the Soviet Union by 1935. In addition to a gas pipeline in Eastern Siberia that is being credited by Chinese banks, Putin's most recent visit to China in the summer was mainly about joint transport projects.

Chinese could go shopping in New York via the Bering Strait

In the future, the Chinese should also be able to comfortably go shopping in New York by train, the route would lead over the Bering Strait. As the largest donor, Beijing could insist that only Chinese companies be committed to the construction. Tunnel included. A perspective that makes Moscow sweat with fear, if only because of the creeping invasion that has pervaded the Middle Kingdom in the Russian Far East for years. Despite the strategic partnership that both of them have repeatedly invoked.

As a result, a modern double has already been agreed for the Trans-Siberian Railway, where trains are currently trundling through the area at an average of 60 kilometers per hour. They still need more than six days for the 9,000-kilometer route from Moscow to Vladivostok. The Transsib 2.0 is to be extended westward via Berlin to Paris and split in the east, with one strand leading via Kazakhstan to China.

At the same time, Beijing has a competing project for the Transsib in the pipeline, in which the strategic partner is left out. The route should lead past Russia via Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. In European standard gauge, which is also standard in China. This would also have done the swapping of the bogies for the Russian broad gauge at the borders, which currently takes around two hours per train.

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