In the 2013 post-apocalyptic movie Snowpiercer, a high-speed train carrying the last remnants of human civilization travels an eternal loop around the world, which has been transformed into a frozen tundra unsuitable for life because of climate change.
The movie's plot -- which involves the train's passengers struggling to survive among a brutal, class-based society -- is a work of science fiction. But the massive train and sprawling track could one day become reality if the Chinese go ahead with plans to expand its high-speed rail network to other parts of the world.
Last week, Wang Mengshu, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University's tunnel-and-underground-engineering research center, raised eyebrows when he said China was considering a proposal to build a 13,000-kilometer (8,077-mile) high-speed rail network to the U.S. from China. The massive track would originate in Beijing and pass through Siberia, Alaska and Canada before reaching the continental U.S., he told the Beijing Times newspaper.
The China-U.S. trip would include traveling through a proposed 200-kilometer underwater tunnel beneath the Bering Strait, Mr. Wang said. A train traveling at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour would arrive in the continental U.S. from Beijing in less than two days, he said, adding that the trip would offer a scenic route.
It isn't the first time that Mr. Wang has publicly discussed China's ambitious plans for global rail domination. In 2010, Mr. Wang said China wanted to build a high-speed rail network to London from Beijing. Earlier this year, he said China wanted to construct the world's longest underwater train tunnel. Last week, he said China would begin building a tunnel in June that would ultimately link China's southwestern Yunnan province with the Southeast Asian countries of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.
How close are these projects to fruition? Mr. Wang didn't respond to requests for comment. However, he told the Beijing Times last week that financing these massive projects would be one of the biggest challenges -- not to mention the regulatory hurdles of building a train track across multiple countries and jurisdictions.
Indeed, the longest underwater tunnel project -- which would link the Chinese coastal cities of Dalian and Yantai -- appears to have been discussed in the past without any sign of formal government approval. The Southeast Asia rail project has been publicly endorsed by political leaders -- but even then, the going has been slow at best.
It's clear that Beijing has ambitious plans to build out infrastructure in other parts of the world. It just isn't clear whether officials agree that the Pacific Ocean can be overcome.