China’s Dream of an Undersea Train to the United States

A journalist once asked the famous boxer Muhammad Ali if he was afraid of an upcoming fight against Jerry Quarry. Ali said he wasn’t afraid of the fight. 

“What are you afraid of?” asked the journalist. 

“I’m afraid of bad flights, not of fights”, replied Ali.

Well, if even Mohammad Ali was afraid of airplanes, this might be a consolation to those who, like me, hate flying. The long queues at the airport, the formalities, and then the flight itself, with all the unbearable turbulence, when you can’t read or sleep or do anything but wonder why on earth you got on that plane and wish somebody invented a new technology for long distance travel. 

One thing I love about Europe is that you can travel by train or by bus. My cousin once took a bus from Rome to Munich, in Germany; she left in the evening and arrived the next morning. A Taiwanese friend of mine travelled from Hamburg to London by bus. Well, it takes long, but it’s cheap and it makes you feel safe (though, rationally speaking, it isn’t safer than flying). 

A few days ago, the Beijing Times reported that China is planning the construction of a 8,000 mile railroad connecting China, Russia and the US. The project includes the realisation of a gigantic undersea tunnel across the Bering Strait (note).  


All people like me must be welcoming the idea of a train network connecting Asia, Europe and the United States. So much so as another recent report claimed that a team of Chinese scientists have successfully developed a MagLev train prototype that might reach up to 1,800 miles per hour (note). 

Of course, the whole project sounds like science-fiction. Can such a huge railroad system be paid for? Is the technology safe? Would it make sense financially?

The MagLev transrapid train connecting Shanghai with
Pudong Airport
Despite scepticism and the fact that the plan is far from having being officially sanctioned, aren’t projects like this the core of human progress? It reminds us of the first telegraph lines, of the elecrification of cities or the construction of undersea tunnels. Those were achievements that cost huge amounts of money, but those expenses changed people’s lives for the better. The fact that the initiative for this feat of human engineering comes from China is a clear sign of the times we live in. 

But will train tickets be cheaper than – or at least as expensive as – flight tickets? Trains already tend to be way more costly than planes. For example, a return ticket from Berlin to Milan can cost 100 Euros. But a train ticket will cost around 500 if not more. Can travelling by train ever become more convenient than flying? 

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