Image Courtesy of InterBering LLC
The Moscow-Beijing high-speed rail line may one day connect to a possible tunnel under the Bering Strait to North America.

China has bagged a Russian contract to build a high-speed railway that would connect Moscow to Beijing in just 48 hours. This is part of a more grandiose plan to connect China with the United States and Canada by creating a tunnel in the Pacific.

"If the funds are raised smoothly … the line can be completed in five years at the quickest," Wang Meng-shu, a tunnel and railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the Beijing Times recently. Citing official sources, the paper put the estimated cost at $230 billion.

The project grew out of a meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in mid-October when four agencies—China’s National Development and Reform Commission, China Railway Corp., Russia's Administration of Transport and its National Railway Cooperation—signed an agreement on construction of a Eurasian high-speed rail from Beijing to Moscow while prioritizing high-speed connectivity between Moscow and the oil-rich city of Kazan, Russia.

The Moscow project would be the first part of a more ambitious program for a China-Russia-Canada-US line. Officials say the line would begin in Beijing and travel north through Siberia and under the Bering Strait to Alaska before heading south through Canada to reach its final—as yet unspecified—destination in the United States.

“It is merely a little over 200 kilometers. We have the technology. It is technically feasible,” Wang said about plans to build the longest undersea tunnel in the Bering Sea. “The Bohai Bay tunnel, 125 kilometers between Dalian and Yantai (in China), has already passed the scientific feasibility debate. Building tunnels is not about the length. It has more to do with how deep it is in the sea than length.”

Though the Moscow project will be China’s first high-speed rail export, Chinese engineers have been upgrading their technical capabilities through several agreements across the world. A decision to create a China-Germany Rail Transit Technology United R&D Center was made after an agreement was signed between the governments of China and Germany, CSR Sifang, Dresden University of Technology and Stuttgart University last October.

The 7,000-km Moscow-Beijing line is itself a stupendous task. It is three times the length of Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed track, which is the longest in the world. The project will be implemented by China Railway High-speed, a subsidiary of the state-controlled China Railway, in a joint venture with the local firm Uralvagonzavod.

At present, a trans-Siberian railway connects Beijing to Moscow via Kazakhstan, taking all of seven days, with connections to St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. The new project will reduce the travel time to two days, beside connecting Moscow with fast-developing Kazan through high-speed rail.

Initial reports suggest Russia has changed its previous plan to commission French firm Alstom, for the rail line between Moscow and Kazan. But Moscow changed its mind after China came forward with a 30-year oil-purchase commitment, which would assist it in battling an ongoing financial crisis.

There are signs the Moscow-Beijing line would prove economical, at least to some extent, because German automobile corporations like Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes would be keen to use this connectivity from their factories in China to Europe.

According to rail experts, a sharp reduction in per-km cost of high-speed rail construction in China has made it more attractive in foreign markets, and that could play a role in the bidding for California high speed rail.