London to Tokyo: New Orient Express?

 

It sounds like a fantasy, but the idea of rail links between Europe and Japan is not only under discussion, but would take less to build than you might think.

China and Russia are already linked to Europe using the Trans-Siberian Railway, and there is regular freight service between China and several European countries. What's missing from a London-Tokyo route is the link between the end of the Trans-Siberian and Japan's island of Hokkaido.

Two years ago, a Russian Deputy Prime Minister raised the idea at the Eastern Economic Forum, an event designed to encourage investment in Russia's Far East, and offered to work together with Japan on the project. His comments came in the context of Russia's plan to extend the railway to the Pacific, opposite its island of Sakhalin.

The distance from the shore to Sakhalin is as little as 7.2 km, well below the length of many railway bridges; at least a dozen exceed 20 km. And from Sakhalin to Hokkaido, which would require an undersea tunnel, the distance is about 45 km, significantly less than the distance of Japan's tunnel from Hokkaido to Honshu or the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France.

Whether the proposal has a real future remains to be seen: It would be expensive to build and would need to generate a significant volume of freight traffic to make it economically feasible; on a trip of that length, most passengers would likely opt to fly. But, its sponsors hope, a rail link could take freight business from both airlines and ships.

Photo: Trans-Siberian Railway at Nazyvayesk (Petar Milošević/Wikimedia)

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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