On April 21, 2015, Japan announced that they’d built a 603 kph (375 mph) Maglev train.
This got me thinking: with the technology we have today, it is feasibly possible to connect North America and South America with Asia, Africa, and Europe, via the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia.
Let’s say a train takes the most direct route possible from Buenos Aires to Cape Town – up South America, up Central and North America, across the Bering Strait, through Asia and all the way down Africa – without stopping. This 21,000 mile journey would take a mere 56 hours to complete!
I’ve been experimenting with this idea…almost to the point of obsession. Over the past four months I’ve spent at least 80 hours designing the thing. And this is what I’ve got. Please click below!
About the Map
There are 18 lines, the longest one being the Red Line, the intercontinental route, running double tracks.The basis is simple: as many million-person metropolitan areas as possible were included. I researched each city to ensure that the population wasn’t mislabeled (there is incredibly little online information about Chinese cities).
In the United States, the Orange Line provides a direct shot from LA to NYC (7 hours), then drops to Florida. The Green Line hits southwestern metropolises and then diverges, to the East Coast and to Canada. The Yellow Line drops from the Midwest to Mexico. The Red Line runs primarily along the North American West Coast, and takes two 25-mile-long bridges or tunnels to cross the Bering Strait to Russia.
The passage from Panama to Colombia requires passage through the Darien Gap, which is currently roadless. There are two options here:
1) Cut through the Darien Gap. Panama City directly to Medellin, 370 miles of track. Travel time: 1 hour 1 minute
2) Avoid the Darien Gap. 40 mile track from Panama City to Colon, Panama – 280 mile ferry ride from Colon, Panama, to San Juan de Uraba, Colombia – 210 mile track from San Juan de Uraba to Medellin, Colombia. The current record for the fastest ferry is 67 mph, so Travel Time: 4 hours 54 minutes.
Decide for yourself by reading my article on the Darien Gap.
The major cities of South America, especially in Brazil, are commonly on the coast – therefore, we have a Red Line coast loop (along with two overland routes, one red one brown). Manaus, Brazil, is left out due to it’s location in the middle of the Amazon.
China and East Asia
Have you heard of Ordos, China? Ordos is a ghost city, meant for millions, but only meeting 2% occupancy. It’s famous for it’s empty 4-lane highways.
Have you heard of Guangzhou, China? According to the World Bank, “the Pearl River Delta in China – which includes the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan and Dongguan – has overtaken Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area in both size and population.”
Needless to say, China is an interesting map to tackle. With, according to Wikipedia, over 150 urban agglomerations with over 1 million people, a lot of stops had to be examined before being placed down. Four routes see-saw through the massive collection of Chinese metropolises. The tail of the Blue Line, on the right hand side, crosses from East Asian Transfer Point in Russia across three bridges/tunnels (totaling 43.8 miles) to Japan, and down Japan. Then, we have a second controversial decision: is it worth it to build three more bridges/tunnels (totaling 72.03 miles) to reach South Korea? We have two options:
1) 72 miles line from Japan to South Korea. Travel time: 13 minutes
2) 72 mile ferry ride from Japan to South Korea. Travel time: 1 hour 6 minutes
There are a variety of misconceptions about country population. For example, the combined population of Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines is higher that that of Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Spain, and Canada combined! This may explain the abundance of Filipino and Indonesian cities on the map below.
We have reached our third and final big controversial decision. We have four options for the Philippines:
1) (pictured) Bridge from Palembang to Zamboanga via Island of Java; requires 51 bridges spanning 295 miles. Travel time: 3 hours.
2) (not pictured) Bridge on separate line from Fuzhou to Manila via Taiwan, then Manila to Zamboanga. Pink line would cut off at Indonesian TP. Requires 18 bridges spanning 335 miles. Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
We can probably eliminate these first two. Even though #1 is pictured, such bridges (nearing 75 miles at times) are infrastructurally far-fetched, economically unfavorable, and environmentally disastrous.
Options three and four, however, may work best depending on your opinion.
3) (not pictured) The Pink Line would cut off at Indonesian TP. There would be a separate line from Zamboanga to Manila, and then a 67mph ferry from Manila to Da Nang. Travel time: 13 hours.
4) (not pictured) No Connection to Philippines
India is big, and growing quickly…and I managed it with only three lines, plus a line for Pakistan, which is on the left. On the right is Bangladesh, and the lowest stop is Sri Lanka, accessed by a relatively short 14-mile chain of bridges.
The Blue Line is a loop around the entire Middle East. The Purple Line stretches from Urumqi China through eastern Central Asia to Turkey. The Green Line loops through western Central Asia, down Iran, across Saudi Arabia, and 15 miles across the Gulf of Aden to Africa. The Red Line splits, one half going to Europe, one half to Africa.
The Orange Line services Eastern Europe, and the Yellow Line services Western Europe, hitting the UK via the Chunnel. The Red Line connects both and crosses the Strait of Gibraltar (10 miles) to Morocco.
You may notice that there are a lot more stops in Nigeria (nearby “Lagos”, on the left hand side) than in Egypt and South Africa. While Egypt and South Africa may be the most popular African countries in our schoolbooks, a look at Africa’s Top 5 Country Population List may tell a different story:
- Nigeria – 184 million
- Ethiopia – 90 million
- Egypt – 89 million
- Democratic Republic of the Congo – 77 million
- South Africa – 55 million
This explains why there are nine stops in Nigeria on the map below.
The Pink Line covers North Africa, the Green Line covers Southern Africa, and the Red Line covers the entire coastline.
Let’s make a final decision: let’s take a look at our 3 controversial decisions.
Decision 1: Darien Gap
Option 2, ferry.
Decision 2: Bridge to South Korea
Option 2, ferry.
Decision 3: Bridge to Phillippines
Option 3, ferry.
It’s settled. All controversies are cleared in the least far-fetched and most eco-friendly ways possible. This is now a completely solid route – no “ifs”.
How Fast Is It?
This is a timetable from Buenos Aires to Cape Town via the Red Line, assuming 90 second stops, and adjusting for some natural boundaries.
Buenos Aires – 12am (Day One)
Rosario – 12:30am
Cordoba – 1:07am
Santiago – 2:15am
Arequipa – 5:35am
Lima – 6:53am
Guayaquil – 8:51am
Quito – 9:20am
Cali – 10:08am
Bogota – 10:40am
Medellin – 11:06am
Panama – 4pm
San Jose – 5:01pm
Managua – 5:37pm
Tegucigalpa – 6:03pm
San Salvador – 6:28pm
Guatemala – 6:47pm
Tuxtla Gutierrez – 7:25pm
Mexico City – 8:37pm
Guadalajara – 9:25pm
Mazatlan – 10:10pm
Culiacan – 10:32pm
Hermosillo – 11:33pm
Mexicali – 12:34am (Day Two)
Tijuana – 12:51am
San Diego – 12:56am
Los Angeles – 1:16am
San Francisco – 2:14am
Portland – 3:42am
Seattle – 4:07am
Vancouver – 4:30am
Southeast Asian Transfer Point – 3:42pm
Qiqihar – 5:27pm
Chifeng – 6:38pm
Beijing – 7:13pm
Taiyuan – 7:55pm
Xi’an – 8:48pm
Guangyuan – 9:25pm
Mianyang – 9:42pm
Deyang – 9:49pm
Chengdu – 9:58pm
Sylhet – 12:15am (Day Three)
Dhaka – 12:36am
Patna – 1:36am
Lucknow – 2:22am
New Delhi – 3:06am
Ludhiana – 3:36am
Jalandar – 3:43am
Amritsar – 3:52am
Lahore – 3:59am
Peshawar – 4:44am
Kabul – 5:08am
Mashhad – 6:41am
Tehran – 7:58am
Baghdad – 9:09am
Amman – 10:31am
Jerusalem – 10:40am
Cairo – 11:26am
Khartoum – 2:12pm
Addis Ababa – 3:55pm
Nairobi – 5:54pm
Dar es Salaam – 7:04pm
Maputo – 10:55pm
Durban – 11:43pm
Port Elizabeth – 12:52am (Day Four)
Cape Town – 2am
Buenos Aires –> Cape Town in Three Days and Two Hours
If you don’t like numbers, skip to the next bold header…
Let’s take a look at how many miles of track there are per route. Reminder: all of the following tracks run in two directions
SA = South America ; NA = North America ; EA = East Asia ; WA = West Asia (including India) ; AF = Africa ; EU = Europe
Red Line – 43400 miles, two parallel tracks per direction, = 86800 miles **(plus ferry mileage; would be 43500 and 87000 respectively w/o ferry)
Orange Line (SA) – 2300 miles
Green Line (NA) – 6600 miles
Orange Line (NA) – 7100 miles
Yellow Line (NA) – 3300 miles
Light Blue Line (WA) – 1900 miles
Orange Line (WA) – 800 miles
Purple Line (WA) – 4200 miles
Dark Blue Line (WA) – 6000 miles
Orange Line (EU) – 2700 miles
Yellow Line (EU) – 5300 miles
Pink Line (AF) – 8700 miles
Green Line (AF) – 7000 miles
Blue Line (EA) – 8600 miles **(plus ferry mileage; would be 8700 w/o ferry)
Orange Line (EA) – 2600 miles
Purple Line (EA) – 2700 miles
Green Line (EA) – 9100 miles
Yellow Line (EA) – 2600 miles
Pink Line (EA) – 1400 miles **(plus ferry mileage; would be 3400 w/o ferry)
TOTAL TRACK TO BE PLACED DOWN – 169,700 miles of two-way track
Along with the 169,700 miles, 52,700 miles are “overlap” (when there is more than one line between two cities, including the second parallel track on the Red Line). This means that:
TOTAL LAND TO BE CLEARED – 117,000 miles
How much would the 169,700 miles of track cost? Well, the Kyushu Shinkansen line of Japan ran at $122.4 million per mile of two-way track. Extended for 169,700 miles, that would mean a total project cost of $20.8 trillion dollars!
How the price would increase:
There would be many bridges and tunnels, as mentioned in the continent-by-continent analysis above. These, however, would not make as much of an economic impact as one would think: the proposed TKM-World Link Bering Strait tunnel would cost a mere $10-12 billion! That’s less than a 0.1% increase to the total cost!
How the price would decrease:
Here’s the catch — according to the GAO, the main reason for the high price is Japan’s mountainous topography, which requires extensive bridges and tunnels. Spain, which is much flatter like the majority of other countries on the map, has Maglev technology running at $37-53 million per mile. That will drop the price almost twice! Also, the mileage calculated is total miles of two-way track – if we calculated using total land to be cleared, the total would be much, much lower. Along with this, it is common knowledge that mass production means the lowering of price, and that as time goes on technology gets cheaper.
Taking all of this into consideration, it might make sense to put the price at $40-50 million per mile. But, let’s be generous and put the figure at $60 million per mile, just to be safe.
$60 million per mile * 169,700 miles would equal a total cost of $10.2 trillion for the world.
But $10.2 trillion isn’t really as bad as it seems. Let’s take a peek at the G20, a coalition of 20 of the world’s biggest economies. Their combined GDP is $78.4 trillion, compared to the $17.4 trillion of the US. Essentially, of the 20 countries that would be paying the bill for this project, the US only accounts for 22% of their wealth. But regardless, let’s say the US takes a leadership position and picks up 35% of the cost. Let’s also say that we have just 20 years to build it, as anything past 2035 seems so distant.
The result is a hefty yet completely feasible $180 billion per year for the US.
Along with this we’d need 3 ferry routes.
1) Darien Gap: 251 minute route. We need one ferry per minute because it runs 2 ways (*2) and on 2-minute increments (/2), and those balance each other out. So, we need 251 ferries, at $200 million per ferry, this costs $50.2 billion.
2) South Korea: 66 minutes equals 66 ferries – at $200 million per ferry this is $13.2 billion
3) Phillippines: 840 minutes equal 840 ferries – at $200 million per ferry this is $168 billion
The grand total is $231.4 billion, but it doesn’t need to be built until 2035 when the train starts running. Dividing by 20 years, the cost for the world as a whole would be $11.57 billion per year. Multiplying by 35%, the annual cost for the U.S. would be $4.05 billion per year.
So, now we have the up-front cost: $184 billion per year for 20 years for the US, at 35% of the investment. But, there’s one thing left: we also need the yearly cost for energy that continues for years to come.
To do this, we need to calculate average speed. Here is a list of where the train stops the most:
Asia (Bangladesh and east) – 143 stops
Asia (India and west) – 99 stops
North America – 76 stops
Africa – 51 stops
Europe – 42 stops
South America – 35 stops
TOTAL – 446 stops
To simplify things, let’s say the 375 mph train was going in one big 169,700 mile loop. It would take 27,152 minutes, but by including the stoppage time (446 stops * 1.5 minutes) we get a total time of 27,821 minutes to run the train through every line.
How many trains would it take to go at two minute increments? Well, divide 27,821 by 2 minutes, and then multiply by 2 (it’s 2-way track), and we get that for this train route we would need more or less 27,821 trains.
Each of these trains would run at an average of (27152/27821)(375) mph, or 366 mph. 27,821 trains each going at an average of 366 mph equals 10,182,500 train miles each hour. Each train mile would carry the train’s capacity of 1,323 passengers. So, in the end, every hour 13,347,150,000 passenger-miles are ridden.
According to Stanford University, every passenger mile of Maglev train requires 0.4 megajoules of energy. Applying this to our train system, we have a rate of 5,388,570,000 megajoules per hour. This is equivalent to about 1.497 trillion watts, each year.
How much would these watts cost? Elon Musk’s SolarCity company is currently producing one watt of solar energy for 55 cents. But, this is dropping incredibly fast — at 14% per year, due to Swanson’s Law. The train wouldn’t start running until 2035 – where at this rate the cost will be 2.7 cents per watt. Let’s be very conservative and put it at 5 cents per watt. For 1.497 trillion watts, this would cost $74.85 billion per year, starting in 2035 (and this cost would continue falling after 2035). For the US, at 35%, this is $26.2 billion per year.
So, after all of this we have a final price:
FOR THE US (at 35%)
From 2015-2035: $184 billion per year
From 2035 and beyond: $26 billion per year
FOR THE WORLD AS A WHOLE (at 100%)
From 2015-2035: $526 billion per year
From 2035 and beyond: $75 billion per year
What would be the benefits?
Well, California’s hi-speed rail plan would require 4.76 billion man hours for 800 miles of track. Extended over 169,700 miles, this would be 990.62 billion man hours. Dividing by 2,000 hours per worker per year, and dividing by 20 years of construction, we get that 24,766,000, or nearly 25 million, people will be employed each year on the project!
Not only will millions be employed and economies will exponentially grow, but the world will be more connected.
Here’s the deal: I recently had a conversation with Jeffrey Williamson, a former Harvard economist. In regards to my train system idea, he said “that works in Japan because there are so many people per square mile. There wouldn’t be enough people to ride it”. What he said made me rethink everything. 1,323 people per year, every two minutes, means that 35 million people can be transported between any two cities on any line, every single year. In each direction. This is 70 million in each direction on the Red Line.
What I decided, after speaking with Jeffrey Williamson, is that the wealthiest 1% of the world (people who can afford expensive train fees) would not be enough people to fill the trains. The poorest cities on the map would rarely use the trains at all. Basically, if the train fare is expensive, the plan is bust. So that’s why I have decided that the train would be free. The funding would be provided by governments and tax dollars. But this money is going towards providing millions upon millions of jobs. And surely the movement and travel of millions of people will spark some added economic benefit. The world would increase it’s unity, solidarity, and productivity.
Stations and Lines
The stations would most likely be the union stations of the city, if possible. Most of these cities already have train lines. If not, a building would be constructed that would serve as a union station – food, personal needs, and information would be provided.
People would probably need some sort of a passport to enter, but the security would be much less than that of the TSA in airports.
The tickets would have specific information – for example, if leaving Buenos Aires for Cape Town, you would start in Buenos Aires Union Station, take the “Red Line hallway”, and there would be a fork – westernwards route (towards Chile) or northernwards route (towards Brazil). You’d take the westernwards hallway, and look for a, say, yellow train, as opposed to a blue train (the trains would be color coded to show which side of the loop the train would take at the end of the route – eg, Yellow would mean diverting south at the fork towards Africa and Blue would mean diverting west at the fork towards Europe). If you would be getting off before the loop diverts, the color of the train doesn’t matter.
On board, there would be food, restrooms, wifi when available, personal assistance if needed, and screens for information and entertainment. You would sit in a comfortable seat (perhaps with a massage function), with a large window to overlook the beautiful landscapes that would be passed.
I think my interest (and subsequent obsession) with this incredibly time-consuming task sprung out of a humble vision: a connected world, a world that thinks on the same page. If it came to a vote on a referendum, I don’t yet know if I would even vote for this project (largely for environmental reasons), but I do know that some good, for the unity and exploration of our world, would come of it.