Image: Wikimedia Commons
Official Chinese media is touting a proposed 13,000 kilometer high-speed railn line connecting mainland China to Russia, Canada, and the US. The only thing is, the project is still a mystery to the Canadian government.
I asked the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade if the “discussions” one Chinese engineer claims are happening between the four nations on the proposed next-generation rail system have begun with China. DFAIT media relations spokesperson Claude Rochon was categorical.
“To answer your question, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada is not informed of this project,” said Rochon.
Yet the state-run newspaper Beijing Times reports Chinese officials are already discussing the proposed line, with other transnational lines scheduled to begin contruction in June. The North American line will shoot straight across northern Siberia, into a 200 kilometer undersea tunnel to be dug in the Bering Strait, then link back into Alaska.
The system would then traverse the Canadian west coast into the continental US. The speed of the train is expected to reach 350 kilometers an hour, meaning a trip to the US from China would take two days.
To give you an idea how spectacular an engineering feat this would be, if the proposed Bering Strait tunnel is eventually dug it will be approximately four times longer than the Chunnel connecting France and Britain. Wang Mengshu, a railway engineer at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the Beijing Times the sophisticated technology required to dig the line into the Bering Strait already exists. Apparently the same equipment will build a similar line from Fujian to Taiwan.
English-language state media the China Daily says “the project will be funded and constructed by China,” with the details “yet to be finalized.”
The “China-Russia-Canada-America” line is one of several proposed high-speed lines the Chinese plan to build to connect them with countries worldwide. The Beijing Times says three others are under various stages of development: a London line that would pass through Germany, one to Iran and Tukrey, and another to Singapore.
Diplomatic obstacles with the Harper government aside, any proposed Chinese rail line through land in British Columbia or the Yukon is sure to face serious domestic opposition. Besides the prevalence of wildlife and native reserves to negotiate along the corridor, future land use is a contentious issue in BC.
The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline already faces daily protests. Under current plans, Northern Gateway will weave through the BC interior from the Alberta oil fields, reaching the Pacific coast—all to feed tankers bound for China with oil. More proposed destruction of BC forestry on behalf of largely Chinese interests will cause debate in Canada.
Meanwhile, Chinese plans for high speed rail lines may have more to do with revitalizing train travel domestically. Once the envy of the world, with an American mayor and Arnold Schwarzenegger admiring their bullet trains, Chinese high speed rail suffered a major public setback. A fatal train crash in Wenzhou in 2011 exposed safety issues and government corruption covering up the disaster that ultimately killed 40 people and injured at least 192.