China proposes to fund and build high-speed rail line from Beijing to Vancouver


China is contemplating on building a high-speed railway that will link Beijing to Vancouver, a 13,000 kilometre route that will cross Siberia and reach Alaska through a 200 kilometres long tunnel under Bering Strait – the narrow point between the two continents. It was reported on state-run television and the Beijing Times newspaper earlier this month. According to another report by the English language version of China Daily, “The project will be funded and constructed by China. The details of this project are yet to be finalized.”

From Vancouver, the line will branch on to continue to Eastern Canada before reaching its final destination on the American East Coast. The line would be 3,000 kilometres longer than the epic Trans-Siberia railroad with trains traveling from end to end at an average of 350 km/h, completing a one-way trip in about 37 hours. One estimate pegs the cost of building such a line at $2 trillion with the main engineering challenge revolving around the technology needed to construct the Bering Strait undersea tunnel – a length four times that of the Chunnel between the United Kingdom and France and an area known for its seismic activity. The economics behind constructing and maintaining such expensive infrastructure is also in question.

The ‘China-Siberia-Canada-America Line’ is among four international high-speed railway projects being contemplated by the Central People’s Government of China. The Beijing Times also lists three other lines that will connect China to London (through Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev and Moscow), Central Asian nations, and Southeast Asia. The literal meaning of the Chinese word ‘China’ is middle kingdom, which aligns with the nation’s international transportation ambitions. History could also be repeating itself given this is also what the British Empire accomplished when London’s state-sanctioned private enterprises funded the construction of thousands of kilometres of railways across Europe and around the world.

Engineering feats were made during the railway age and allowed Britain to control and reap the benefits of foreign economies. Gargantuan costs and engineering issues aside, there is also the political environment to consider – one that transcends borders and will likely require multilateral agreements given the expanse of the project and its implications to the global economy. Within Canada, an informal stamp of approval would likely be needed from the affected provinces, adding on to the probability of mounting legal disputes over a spectrum of issues and special interests.

As seen with the ongoing debate over pipelines and the extraction of natural resources, British Columbians are particularly sensitive about the potential environmental impact of major infrastructural and economic projects. Whether or not it actually gets built within our lifetime, and the odds are highly unlikely, there is no doubt that China is probably the one country that is truly capable of building and [most importantly] funding this engineering feat. Bear in mind that China has been on a high-speed rail line building frenzy; in less than five years, China has built the world’s longest high-speed rail network spanning over 10,000 kilometres, a continuing endeavour that will include this year’s opening of the world’s longest high-speed rail line: a 2,298 kilometre long route that connects Beijing to Hong Kong in under 8 hours.

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