CONSTRUCTION CORNER - Chinese projects aim for audacity

0 146 Infrastructure

by Journal Of Commerce last update:Aug 26, 2014

Construction Corner - Sometimes, you read about a proposal that is so big, or so innovative, or so...strange, that you're left in awe by the sheer audacity of it.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

Sometimes, you read about a proposal that is so big, or so innovative, or so...strange, that you're left in awe by the sheer audacity of it.

Three such ideas landed in my mailbox in the space of about an hour one day last week. Two involved high-speed rail and one proposed a floating city as a way to combat over-crowding in China. And yes, all three ideas originated in China.

China, of course, is no stranger to big ideas. The Three Gorges Dam, and all of the works associated with it, was an audacious undertaking. That it displaced some 1.3 million people and was built on a seismic fault seems to matter little to the government. China has an extensive and expanding network of high-speed rail. Now a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering tells us that his country is considering a high-speed rail plan that would run an estimated 13,000 kilometres from northeastern China, into Russia, then cross the Bering Strait into Alaska through an undersea tunnel.

All else aside, the tunnel itself would be an impressive piece of engineering. It would be about 200 kilometres long. Using high-speed trains reaching speeds of 350 km/h, the end-to-end trip would take about two days.

So you could ride a train for 48 hours and end up in Alaska?

Speaking of high-speed trains, the notion of magnetic levitation, or maglev for short, has been around for years. Even the government in staid old Ontario was once interested and built and operated a test facility just outside Kingston for a while. But there were technological glitches that the government felt would be too expensive to overcome, and the project went into the dumpster.

The Chinese were more persistent, and they now have maglev trains operating in some high-speed corridors. Right now speeds are limited to about 400 km/h because of excessive air turbulence encountered at higher speeds.

Now, though, they are talking of using maglev trains operating in a vacuum tube. The idea is still under development, but engineers are talking about top speeds of somewhere around 3,000 km/h, and no, that’s not a typographical error.

Deng Zigang has overseen construction of a test loop. It’s short, with a diameter of just 12 metres, but Zigang’s team is using it to prove (they hope) that in the concept of super-maglev in an evacuated tube it really can be made to work.

Evacuated systems —sometimes called vacuum trains — have been proposed for the metro system in Zurich, Switzerland. The proposed “Hyperloop” train providing a half-hour ride between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be a vacuum train travelling at roughly 1,200 km/h.

But the hard developmental work is being done in China.

The third idea that struck me as audacious came from ATDesign Office, a firm based in London, commissioned by the China Communications Construction Company, or CCCC, for a floating city that would offer a self-sustaining solution to overcrowding in China.

The idea is in keeping with CCCC’s background, which is in port dredging, design and construction.

The city would be built in clusters of floating islands, each about four square miles, and made from variously shaped, prefabricated modules. Tunnels would connect the islands to each other and to the mainland.

There would be two public green belts—one on the water and one under water. There would be a hotel and amusement area housed under water. The peripheral areas would house vertical farms and hatcheries, as well as waste-to-energy facilities and water treatment plants.

The China Transport Investment Company is reported to be considering a small-scale demonstration project next year.

Audacious? Certainly. But so was John F. Kennedy when, in 1961, he challenged Americans to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to

last update:Aug 26, 2014

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