Given the massive costs and unpredictable engineering challenges associated with such projects, not to mention political obstacles, none have come to fruition. And in addition to those setbacks, today’s TEPR may have difficulty selling ground transportation as a viable alternative to flying. So why do they keep coming up? (And even if that hypothetical New Yorker could wheel her way to continental Europe—would she? Through thousands of miles of freezing wilderness?)
Perhaps that’s the wrong question. While the image of the East and West joined by casual passenger traffic is romantic, the real return would be new channels of energy resource transport, as well as oil and gas development in the arctic. Yakunin, the Russian Railways executive, said the TEPR would include gas and oil pipelines to help boost the country’s energy profits, creating a dozen new industries and countless jobs, and a more dynamic global economy. The next question, then—which has been on the table now for 150 years—is whether anyone would be willing to invest in a project that could collectively cost trillions of dollars and whose anticipated economic yields would be a generation away.
Bering Strait tunnel or no, Russia has already begun building railway through its Far East, in hopes to expand the energy economies in its distant provinces. Moscow and Beijing are moving forward with the construction of a high speed train between the two cities via Siberia, funded chiefly by the state-run China Railway High-speed, according to Business Insider: “The Moscow-to-Beijing direct route will measure about 7,000 kilometers (4,340 miles), effectively three times farther than the longest high-speed railway in the world, the Beijing-to-Guangzhou train, which is also operated by CRH.”
In his 2013 keynote speech at the Schiller Institute, structural engineer Hal Cooper (of Cooper Consulting Co., Kirkland, Washington)—a rare American proponent of the Bering Strait tunnel, and who has met with Yakunin in the past—reported that the rail to the coastal Magadan is being designed now. He described Russia’s plans to build single-track diesel cars, and later, double-track electric, in addition to a four-lane highway, and “probably natural gas pipelines, too.” He believes that all of this will foster the development of northeastern Russia, whether or not the Bering Strait Tunnel gets built--but that such development would be exponentially more profitable if it does.
“Russia’s moving along with that and they’re not going to stop,” Cooper told me. He estimates that the Bering Strait tunnel could facilitate transport of “up to one and a half million barrels a day… from Alberta to China, and that alone would be enough to economically justify the project.”
But there are very few Americans even talking about this project, let alone actively promoting it. One of them, of course, is Cooper, who, in 2006, finished a 2,326-page feasibility study for the Bering Strait tunnel (which was sponsored by the Canadian Arctic Railway Company, whose owner later went bankrupt). And the other is Russian-born Alaskan businessman Fyodor “Theo” Soloview, about whom Cooper says, “He and I seem to be that last two men standing [on this issue] in North America at the moment.”