S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com Bering Strait Tunnel Page keywords = Bering Strait tunnel rail road way Alaska Diomede East Cape Prince Wales Siberia train gauge freight passenger diesel locomotive terminal terminus

Updated:   16 Aug 2012, 16:20  ET
[Page created ca. Jul 1999; converted 16 Aug 2012
    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]

URL:  http://sbiii.com/strunnel.html
[was at "home.att.net/~Berliner-Ultrasonics/strunnel.html"]

S. Berliner, III
Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
"changing materials with high-intensity sound"

[consultation is on a fee basis]

Technical and Historical Writer, Oral Historian
Popularizer of Science and Technology
Rail, Auto, Air, Ordnance, and Model Enthusiast
Light-weight Linguist, Lay Minister, and Putative Philosopher

note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's


Bering Strait
Tunnel Page



On this page (some background follows):

    Bering Strait Tunnel.

Dual Gauging.
Geological Considerations.
Original Proposal.

[See also the Long Island Sound (CONnecticut-NY) TunneL - CONNYL.]

When then-Governor Clinton of Arkansas was first running for the Presidency, I sent (28 Sep 1992) a proposal for a Bering Strait Tunnel to the Clinton for President headquarters in Little Rock, which he or his staff ignored (of course).

I re-sent it on 09 Mar 1993 when President Clinton was about to meet in Vancouver with Russian President Yeltsin and Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney (again it was ignored).

It was a serious proposal in the first place and still merits serious consideration.

On 17 Jul 1999, I sent a reminder of the proposal to the White House and have also sent (28 Jul 1999) a similar message to Canadian Governor General Roméo leBlanc (Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's links didn't work), both referring to this page; later, I followed it up with a letter to M. Chrétien, all (unsurprisingly) to no avail.

Well, it's time to send it on to President Bush and again to Prime Minister Chrétien (done*)!  If the White House has me down as some crank, no sense spoiling my reputation, even though this is a very serious proposal.

* - done 16 Apr 2001, with copies to V.P. Cheney, Gov. Knowles of Alaska, Premier Dosanjh of British Columbia, Premier Duncan of the Yukon, and to the appropriate U.S. Secretaries and Canadian Ministers and the AAR.

Bering Strait Tunnel

The STRUNNEL, as I term it, would be restricted to rail traffic (as is the Chunnel); persons wishing to drive across would have to load up on either side at the nearest railhead [much as is done now on the Autotrain from Lorton Virginia (Washington, DC, area) to Sanford (Canaveral/Disneyworld area) Fl;orida].

The Strunnel concept includes gauge changing, on the Alaska side (for our economic benefit), and is an easy engineering feat (vis-à-vis the Chunnel).

The only other major consideration is a means of crossing the tectonic plate boundary; see Geological Considerations, below.

A general map of the area and proposed right-of-way will follow.

The Strunnel would directly link three exceedingly rich (in terms of natural resources) areas of three major industrial powers; there would be no trans-shipment of goods as there is by air or sea.

Updating the concept (and elaborating far further), the Alaska Highway and the Alaska Railroad go all the way up to Fairbanks and a road extends to Nenana and Manley Hot Springs on the Tanana/Nenana River near its juncture with the Yukon River.  The proposed right-of-way (RoW) would follow the Yukon to just short of Koyukuk or so, then follow the Koyukuk River valley north to the Kateel River.  Then it would travel southwest along the Kateel to within some 25 miles of Traverse Peak (3,400'/1,036m) and thread easterly across the high divide (2,500'/762m) onto the Seward Peninsula and pick up the East Fork of the Koyuk River, following that valley down to Dime Landing, just south of Haycock (on the Peace River), and then head west along the Koyuk River, climbing again along the lower north slope of the Bendeleben Mountains and down to the Kuzitrin River valley and Bunker Hill and Marys Igloo (if it hasn't melted).  At this point (Marys Igloo), the RoW would head north along the Agiapuk River and then down to the coast along the southern slopes of the York Mountains past Brevig Mission and Lost River to Tin City and Wales, its final landfall.

Wales, on Cape Prince of Wales on the Bering Strait, will be the jumping-off point for the Strunnel.  Tunneling under Little Diomede Island (U.S.), about 20 miles (32Km) from shore, it would cross (into Russia) under Ostrov Ratmanova (Big Diomede Island, in Russia), only 2½ miles (4Km) to the west.  An airshaft and service area could be built on either of these islands (we'd probably prefer Little Diomede).  From Ratmanova, it is another 20 miles (32Km) underwater to Naukan on the Mys Peek (East Cape) of the Chukotskiy Poluostrov (Eastern Siberia peninsula).

Once across, a similar process of threading a RoW through forbidding, rough terrain would take us inland to the west bank of the Lena River opposite Yakutsk and then down to join the northern route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, perhaps at Tynda, or even beyond to the main route at Never, just east of Skovorodino.

Obviousy, detailed surveys of the possible RoW locations would have to be made on both sides of the Strait before any final RoW could be laid out.

To further develop the concept, oil and natural gas pipelines might be incorporated in the project, allowing direct transfer of these resources between the two nations.

The Russian railroad system is on a broad gauge of 5' (152.4cm), whereas we (and the rest of the world) use the old Roman chariot wheel spacing of 4' 8½" (143.5cm).  The usual way to accomplish this has been to simply lift the car, unhook the brake lines or linkage, and swap trucks (bogies), reconnect, and let the locomotive of the other gauge take the train away.  Some transfers are also done using special wheelsets with wheels able to slide in and out along the axles.

It should be pointed out, here, that many heavy-duty rail vehicles, such as some of the giant Schnabel cars made by Krupp (and others) already have the ability to change gauge ("spurwechsel") in order to operate on both sides of the "Steel Curtain", so even that technological hurdle has been amply covered.

New idea - Dual Gauging - Russia and the other nations in the former Soviet Union are not about to reduce their rail gauge and the rest of the world is not about to broaden theirs, so how about dual-gauging the entire length of the Trans-Siberian railroad and then extending dual gauge westward to the boundary with western 4' 8frac12;" gauge.  That way, shipment of goods (and even tourists) could go from New York to London by rail without changing cars!  You may laugh but it is both feasible and sensible.

Newer idea for Dual Gauging - I was challenged by John Gale out Arizona way about dual gauging not working with two such nearly-identical gauges.  He made the unwarranted basic assumption, that the dual-gauge track would share a common rail, which in no way need be the case.  One can just as easily have two rails spread by having their bases touch and two others with the tighter gauge inboard and the broader gauge outboard:

__|_|______|__|__ (or some such, like an asymmetrical gantlet track).

Using old Pennsy 152# rail as a standard, that would give 3¾" between railheads where the flanges butt and 7¼" between the railheads on the other side of the track.  That should certainly work!  The only special work inside the Strunnel would be for the few emergency/maintenance crossovers á là Chunnel and, if they were not coincident, need not be special dual work at all.

Here is a layout of the basic geometry:

(drawing by SB,III and © 2002 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
[Thumbnailed image - click on drawing for larger image]

Actually, the spread would be even more to allow for track clips (certainly not spikes!).

The Strunnel can work and will pay for itself in a few years.  It can be done; all we need is vision and leadership.

Geological Considerations

As noted above, the only other major consideration is a means of crossing the tectonic plate boundary between the North American and Asian plates.  The Strunnel would cross the subduction zone where the North American plate slides under the Asian plate.  Crossing the tectonic plate boundary without having to worry about shear failure in major earthquakes or through gradual subduction is well within the available technology; there are several solutions available, including a coaxial tube arrangement with the inner tube suspended in a flooded outer tube, a long, gradual "S"-curve in the tunnel, flexible, pressure-tight swivel joints, and the like.

In addition, the landward construction in Alaska must allow for earthquakes and for landslides and mudflows.

Excerpt from original 1992 proposal (amended as noted by underscoring):

"Kennedy had his 'man on the moon' dream and we actually did it.  How about something not quite so monumental, but a tremendous shot in the arm for our economy, Canada's, and Russia's.

Turkey bridged the Bosporus, Japan built its Tsugaru Straits tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido, and TransManche Link completed the Chunnel between England and France.  Why don't we build a rail tunnel under the Bering Strait and link the lower 48 with Alaska and the Trans-Siberian Railroad?  We no longer have any domestic shipping interests worth talking about and the construction and rail transportation industries need a boost.

By tunneling and restricting traffic to rail, we would minimize the environmental impact and avoid the hazards of weather and large mammals and the need for massive autoroad services.  Autotrain service should be a great way to reach Eurasia and Europe itself.

This is a project whose time has come and which would show vision and practicality.  Goods which now take weeks and months to reach the U. S., Canada, or Russia would arrive in days without the need for air or sea shipment.  Tourism would skyrocket.  Alaska's, British Columbia's, and the Yukon's economies would soar.  Canada could extend BCRail inland up the Fraser River valley and north behind the Coast Range to Skagway and pick up and standard gauge the White Pass & Yukon Railroad to Dawson and the Alaska border.  There you're already in the Yukon River Valley which can be followed, albeit with difficulty, right down to its confluence with the Koyokuk River.  Up the Koyokuk some 50 miles brings you to the far western foot of the Brooks Range which puts you on a relatively flat course due west across the Seward Peninsula to Cape Prince of Wales on the Bering Strait.  Link up with the Alaska Railroad at Fairbanks and give Alaska a decent inland transportation system while you're at it.

I had not researched the route any further since writing that when the announcement of the summit came; the Association of American Railroads and the Department of the Interior can do that far better than I."

I also had no sooner sent off my renewed call for Strunnel action (Apr 2001) when the Italian goverment gave the go-ahead to finally bridge the Strait of Messina (a two-mile suspension bridge)!

17 Aug 01 - Uh, oh!  Seems I missed out on some serious consideration being given on both sides of the Strait; see this 10 Aug 01 NY TIMES link,

it does appear, however, that they didn't consider a lot of the technical issues addressed herein.

Also, a Vancouver (BC) native sent me these two links, neither of which seems very prepossessing:

The (Interhemispheric) Bering Strait Tunnel & Railroad Group
    (outdated since 1997), and

The Global Railway - Bering Strait
    (last updated in Jan 2001- makes grandiose claims
      but gives no real information and requires membership).
    [Why would a site that is supposedly open and aboveboard require membership
      to divulge the most basic information?]

Both of these sites also appear to completely ignore the technical problems inherent in this project, which have I addressed above.

Ben Angel on the Strunnel

Benerito M. Angel is (Jan 2002) a civil engineering student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who served as President of the UAF Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and has an interest in the eventual construction of a tunnel under the Bering Strait.

He sent these comments on the right-of-way considerations, and on the tectonics of the region, including the straits (I have NOT edited this material but it so interesting that I present it verbatim):


In Spring Semester 2001, I was one of the TA's in charge of an Introduction to Engineering course.  It was an experimental course that attempted to get students interested in arranging early mentoring roles by having them perform projects.  One of the projects was to study a road route from Fairbanks to Nome, and determine if the route was feasible.  It was sort of a surprise to find that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities had a plan already put together to run a road from near Bettles to Nome, going north of the Nulato Hills.  Part of your rail route appears to be along this route (especially the areas near the Koyuk River).


The route between Fairbanks and Tanana could go one of two ways.  Most documents related to this subject have the rail route following a snowmobile trail that runs from Nenana to Tolovana Hot Springs to Manley Hot Springs to Tanana.  This route runs through area already dedicated as reserve and state forest, and could prove contentious.  Another alternative would be to run the rails directly westward of Nenana to the Toklat River, then going around Moose Mountain to its south and then turning sharply northward to Tanana.  This runs through apparently undedicated flatlands, which extend toward western Alaska.


Also, in a recent article featuring Viktor Razbegin, the leading Russian advocate of the tunnel, he had suggested that instead of tunneling 60 miles between Wales and Uelen, the rail tunnel should be extended 40 miles to bypass the mountainous coast on the south side of the Chukotka Peninsula (Poluostrov).  Not sure that this would be feasible.  I sort of think that he has neglected to look at the north side of the peninsula.  Rail could be extended along the north side of all the hills to an area just short of Anadyr.  Valleys exist there where the railway could traverse south of the range at the capitol of Chukotka and continue onward toward Yakutsk.


There was rail construction projected for Yakutsk during the late 1980s.  However, it stopped about 800 miles short of the town, just inside the border of Sakha-Yakutia.  There continues to be interest in finishing this line, but no apparent progress.  This would be the rail link that would connect Yakutsk, and the proposed rail link, with the Russian rail system.


The North America and Asian plate boundary does not run under the straits, but rather it runs about 500 miles to the west (the fault is apparently a transverse fault, though it isn't as well defined as other similar faults due to the remoteness of the location in which it is in).  The straits are seismically stable.  Bedrock is granitic (according to Dr. Paul Metz of UAF's Geological Engineering department).

As to slides on the Alaska side, there is no difference between Alaska and Russia in regard to this particular natural hazard.  Indeed, there would be greater hazard due to frostjacking and differential settling than there would be due to slides.  (The main slide issue, involving solifluction, is something I am supposed to make a presentation on late this coming semester).

The issue of earthquakes on the Alaska side of the rail tunnel seems to be mostly limited in scope to the areas north of the Alaska Range.  The same elements that built the Alps and the Himalayas also built the Alaska Range; namely the collision of the Pacific and North American plates has pushed up a rather tall series of mountains over the aeons and transverse faults divide the region around Fairbanks where different rock units are displaced at differing speeds.  Where you see a valley is where you will see a fault, as faults typically provide easier paths where water can erode out features and create drainage.  (This from Terrain Analysis class).

I don't honestly know if the range on the Russian side is of the same sort of construction.  If so, the same sort of pattern would characterize the region up to the big transverse fault between the North American and Asian plates."

- - - - * - - -

Ben obviously put a lot of thought into this; thanks, Ben!

For examples of the latest in tunnelling equipment, methods, and projects, visit the site of the Herrenknecht companies.

(This is a referral only; not a recommendation.)

It was suggested to me that the projected shortfall in domestic U. S. natural gas is an excellent impetus to bring this whole proposal back to public focus.  However, a seabed pipeline could be laid without any such complications; my interest in the pipeline noted above was merely as an adjunct to the Strunnel, which, in and of itself, would provide far more benefits of very long duration.

See also the TRUNNEL (New York Harbor Tunnel) page.


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


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