The ongoing super feud between America and Russia has caused colossal collateral damage internationally, and everyone will feel the effects of the fallout. But what if there is a project that Russia and the US can collaborate on that would bring peace, progress and prosperity? The Inter-Continental Railway is an ambitious project connecting former foes to trade with one another which would generate commerce, not conflict, for everyone.
In his documentary, The Strait Guys, filmmaker Rick Minnich documents the efforts to gain support for a 5,500-mile long Inter-Continental Railway from Edmonton, Canada to Harbin in China. The proposed project is intended to link the existing systems in North America through Canada into Alaska.
The train line would pass through a 70-mile long tunnel under the Bering Strait into Russia and then connect with existing rail systems to China, Europe, Mexico, the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Minnich says the train line is intended to become part of the One Belt One Road initiative.
While Minnich’s film is ostensibly a story about the Inter-Continental Railway, it’s actually more about collaboration and reconciling national identities and cultures as well as trade among countries that haven’t had the best of histories.
The filmmaker is particularly aware, not only of the significance of the project in helping to build bridges between the major political players, but also the need for a treaty between US and Russia to enable the project to happen.
Although The Strait Guys was twelve years in the making and completed just before the conflict in Ukraine began, the idea for the film had been burgeoning for the past 150 years. Previous attempts to construct the line from 1906 had been interrupted by a succession of other wars.
The three main protagonists of The Strait Guys are Czech-born mining engineer and founder of the Inter-Continental Railway Project, George Koumal, the projects chief advisor, Scott Spencer and co-founder, Joe Henri. All three are motivated by the need to serve their country and the world and neither of them expect any financial returns for their efforts.
When watching clips of the film, one is struck by the dedication of the Strait Guys and their commitment to a project that is clearly bigger than themselves. What both they, and the project ultimately exemplifies is the importance collaboration plays in helping to solve the huge issues around conflict and competition in the world.
”If you look back at history”, says Minnich, ”railroads have really been the engine that have driven development in the United States. It was the Trans-Continental Railway that connected the east and west coasts. In Russia, it was the Trans-Siberian Railway that connected this enormous country. And the Inter-Continental Railway would be the extension of that. It would link Asia, North America. The entire world would be connected by rail as a result. So in my vision, it’s like the ultimate globalisation project.”
”Projections indicate that the railway would transport three percent of global trade, which is the equivalent of the Panama Canal. And because of the curvature of the Earth, it’s a shorter distance going through the Bering Strait way up north and would be about one week faster than going by ship.”
Then there are the railways green credentials:
”The Inter-Continental Railway would be powered by renewable energy sources like tidal power plants and hydroelectric along the route. Plus, it could be used whenever and wherever you have a railway. It’s a great opportunity to run power lines and fibre optic cables and stuff along the alignment”, says Minnich.
From an engineering perspective the project is doable, according to Strait Guy, George Koumal. The challenges are more political, he said.
“I believe if our presidents will make a decision about the project, we can build it very fast. The main problem is to reach a political decision.”
Various stakeholders have raised the issue of cost. At an estimated $100 billion, comparisons can be made with the International Space Station where nations similarly worked together for the world’s common good.
Scott Spencer argues that the railway is a long-term investment and can be operational for at least a century, whereas the space station is a temporary infrastructure and is expected to be decommissioned later this decade. From that perspective, the railway “is a remarkable bargain,” he said.
Minnich notes that the project would be like an “International Space Station on the ground, and a very tangible demonstration of international cooperation and goodwill.”
One of the leading rail industry consultants in the Russian Federation and co-founder of the Inter-Continental Railway Project, Victor Razbegin, said that the price tag ”would be comparable to, if not less than, the cost of shipping by sea or air and that the project is expected to pay for itself within 15 years.”
When one considers the vast sums spent on the military-industrial complex that have resulted in the killing of millions in far flung places, $100 billion for an investment in a huge social benefit like the Inter-Continental Railway, is money well spent.
George Koumal reiterates the goodwill that could be generated:
“I hope to see that we are actually friends, not enemies; that we have much more in common than what separates us. It’s important that Russia and the U.S. join each other and maintain the peace in the world. And if anybody thinks how crazy an idea it is, please consider it was first mentioned and agreed upon by President Lincoln”, says Koumal.
This sentiment as far as Minnich is concerned, makes rational business sense:
”If you are doing business with someone and you’re intricately linked in an economic way, you will think twice before you start a war with that other party”, he says.
Indeed, prosperity, peace and the abundance of trade is the logical corollary of such a strategy. But Minnich says that the U.S government are primarily motivated short-term profits. This inevitably leads us back to the military-industrial complex and the perception, at least by those in power in the U.S, that more money can be made in war than in peace.
”U.S politicians look for short-term gains so they can stay in office and have more power. They’re not really looking to invest long-term in infrastructure”, says Minnich.
The filmmaker argues that the American’s don’t understand that collaboration is mutually beneficial, both in the short-term and long-term. He says that Washington’s strategy of total control stems from a perception that the United States won the Cold War and they treat Russia as the defeated enemy, even though cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg are, in terms of culture and infrastructure, far more advanced than any American city.
”I think there’s something in the way U.S. diplomacy works that they just don’t want to see Russia as an equal and worthy partner”, says Minnich.
It’s the recognition that the Inter-Continental Railway has the potential to help nurture a more collaborative approach in the context of the current travails in Ukraine that motivates Scott Spencer to push for the project.
”This military conflict in Ukraine is going to take a great deal of healing, recovery and rebuilding. And I can think of no project that can bring such greatness and such results for all the nations involved, then the Inter-Continental Railway.”
”We need a 21st century solution because threat-based diplomacy of consequences and sanctions have failed. And unfortunately, people are dying. I’m pointing out that the principles of an Inter-Continental Railway can be a basis for our nations to work together. The world can know more about it by going on our website at www.intercontinentalrailway.com.”
Spencer says that the Inter-Continental Railway can be a potential focal point for how things can be done constructively together.
”The Intercontinental Railway is a relief line via the Bering Strait to the supply chain woes that we saw with ship stacking up outside of America. This is not going away. And remember what we’re discussing here today will have an impact on this world for the next 100 to 200 years”, says Spencer.
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