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11:56 | Aug 17 | 2011

A Bridge from Eurasia to North America

 Tunnel or bridge across the Bering Strait is a project connecting Eurasia and North America (Alaska and Chukotka on or under the Bering Strait). Direct connection between North America and Eurasia should contribute to unprecedented economic growth on both continents.

 Interrupted by revolution

The idea to link two parts of the world with a man-made construction has deep historical roots. It was first mentioned in history in 1890, when William Gilpin, the Governor of Colorado (USA), first expressed the idea to connect North America and Eurasia with a railway ferry line. The idea was supported by the Head of the Union Pacific Railroad of the United States and was included into “Harriman plan”.

In 1891–1916 Russia built the Trans-Siberian Railway (Transsib) – the largest railroad track in the world with the length of 9000 km.

The project of tracking it as a bridge to North America was approved by Nicholas II, Prime Minister Sergey Witte, military and financial ministries of Russia. The Government approved the project twice, but due to the compelling circumstances it remained unfulfilled (First World War prevented once, then the revolution).

In April 1918, Vladimir Lenin signed a decision on the construction of the railroads in the eastern and northern parts of the RSFSR, also towards the Bering Strait – to accelerate the development of natural resources.

In 30–50s of the XX century, the North-Siberian railway from Vorkuta to Anadyr (“Subpolar line”) construction project had been implemented. 1700 km of ways were constructed.

In the 60s American engineers suggested a combination of the energy systems of Russia and the United States. The implementation of the ICL multitransport corridor – the World Link, which included transmission lines, provided opportunities for creation of an “energy bridge” from Russia to USA. Expert estimated the predicted savings of $20 billion annually.

Land already reserved in Alaska

In the 1990s the project was discussed at major international conferences in Washington, Moscow, Anchorage (United States, Alaska), Novosibirsk, Ferbenks (Alaska), as well as at conferences in the United Nations on global projects in Barcelona, on sea tunnels in Norway, on the problems of Arctic in Finland, on the Arctic coast problems in Magadan, on large projects management in Norway, also at the meeting of NAFTA Railway management and engineering staff in Montreal.

In 1991, in the International non-profit corporation Interhemispheric Bering Strait Tunnel and Railroad Group (IBSTRG), the Russian name – “Transcontinental”, was registered.

In 1996 the U.S. Government allocated $10 million for research works on the ICL – World Link project.

In Anchorage a meeting of the working group for, “Russian Far East – U.S. West Coast” cooperation in the framework of the intergovernmental commission Gore – Chernomyrdin was held. The project was included in the priority programs of the Cooperation Committee of the Asia-Pacific region. Alaska got a special resolution to reserve land for future road route.

No money from the budget 

Here`s the chronicle of subsequent events.

September 2006. The Federal Agency for Railway Transport of Russia decided to build a railroad “Yakutsk – Magadan”, followed by access to the Bering Strait.

March 2007. As part of the federal target “Far East and Transbaikalia Development” program the Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov approved the construction of road “Berkakit – Tommot – Yakutsk” to Magadan, as an important element of the ICL – World Link project in Russia.

April 2007. The Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the railway transport in Russia development strategy up to 2030, providing the transcontinental railroad over 3.5 thousand km construction from the Right Lena – Zyrianka – Whelen, with access to the Bering Strait. This highway is a key element of the ICL – World Link project in Russia.

In the same year in Moscow the international conference “Intercontinental Magistral Eurasia – America” took place.

May 2007. Igor Levitin, the Minister of Transport of Russia, said that money to build a tunnel under the Bering Strait will not be received from budget. According to him, “the tunnel could be financed by private companies, if they find it beneficial”.

The time will show the further development and possible implementation of the “millennium project”. 

Highway through the Bering Strait: the pros and cons

TECHNOLOGY. The project critics argue that the project exceeds current technical capabilities. At the same time, the supporters say that the distance between the strait shores at the narrowest point is quite large (86 km), but the distance to the Ratmanov Island is significantly less than the length of the longest in the world tunnel connecting the Japanese islands Honshu and Hokkaido (53.9 km).

The publicly announced construction project of a 180-kilometer tunnel linking Japan and South Korea, gives a reason to believe that the construction of the tunnel at the 90–100 km beneath the Bering Strait is more achievable, taking into consideration that the degree of seismic hazard and the necessary depth of the tunnel the project between the Eurasia and America is much more simple.

ECONOMICS. It seems that the costs for the completion of the Eurasian Railway shoulder from Chukotka to Transsib are too large and can never be recouped. As a comparison, the costs of the implementation of the missing parts of the railway in the U.S. and Canada are significantly less, but also quite expensive.

These claims are largely true, however, critics usually offer for consideration not completely correct routes over the mountain Yakutia or along the Okhotsk Sea coast via Magadan.

Meanwhile, using the approved plans of the Soviet Union rail network development it was supposed to build a branch of Baikal-Amur Railway towards Yakutsk, which is now almost built. (In order to attach Yakutsk railway network to Baikal-Amur Railway, at least 300 km are remained to finish it up). And then the subsequent extension of the railway in Lena basin is supposed to be implemented, bypassing the Mountain Yakutia to construct the Lena cascade hydro-electric power station.