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msnbc.com
updated 8/20/2011 5:56:41 AM ET 2011-08-20T09:56:41

Earlier versions of this story carried an incorrect estimate of the distance from London to New York City via the Bering Strait.

A train could someday make a journey from New York City to London if a plan to build a 65-mile tunnel between North America and Asia comes to pass.

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The Times newspaper in the U.K. said that idea to construct a $60 billion tunnel under the Bering Strait was this week backed by some of President Dmitry Medvedev’s top officials.

The paper described the idea as "the greatest railway project of all time."

The tunnel would mean Russian territory would meet U.S. jurisdiction underneath the islands of Big Diomede, which is Russian, and Little Diomede, which is American. One problem might be that there is no rail line to Alaska's west coast.

The Times named one of the officials supporting the plan as Aleksandr Levinthal, the deputy federal representative for the Russian Far East.

The idea dates back more than a century; the ill-fated tsar, Nicholas II, approved similar tunnel plans twice, but World War I and then the Russian revolution intervened.

Cheaper, faster than container ships
The paper said supporters of the idea believe it would be a cheaper, faster and safer way to move goods around the world than container ships, estimating it could carry about 3 percent of global freight and make about $7 billion a year.

Levinthal and several other Moscow officials took part in a conference in Yakutsk in eastern Russia that discussed how to improve infrastructure in the region, the Times said.

A 500-mile rail line linking Yakutsk to the Trans-Siberian railway is currently being built and Russia plans to lay more track to connect mineral-rich areas to freight lines.

"We should see advanced development of road and rail infrastructure here [in the Russian Far East] and improvement in the investment climate in Russia as a key aim," Levinthal said, according to The Times.

The tunnel would be the first dry connection between the two continents since a land bridge 21,000 years ago.

Image: A view of the Bering Strait land bridge
NOAA
A view of the Bering Strait land bridge, as it would have appeared about 21,000 years ago. Humans probably migrated across the temporary link to the New World, recent genetic evidence suggests.

Stephen Dalziel, head of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, sounded a note of caution, suggesting U.K. investors, at least, were unlikely to put money into the tunnel project until it actually began.

"It would be a great idea, if it worked," he said.

The idea was discussed in 2007 at a conference in Moscow called "Megaprojects of Russia's East ."

George Koumal, president of the Interhemispheric Bering Strait Tunnel and Railroad Group, called on governments to back the tunnel at the meeting. He suggested it would bring the two people's closer together, noting the current lack of links.

"There are very few [Russian] people who have stood on the beach in Alaska," he said. "Seemingly you can stretch out your hand and touch Mother Russia."

However, at that time, a Russian economics ministry official threw cold water on the idea, wondering who would pay for the project.

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