Travel time between Yantai in Shandong province and Dalian in Liaoning province could be a mere 40 minutes instead of six hours at present if an undersea rail tunnel is built.
But the project would need an investment of up to 300 billion yuan (US$48.77 billion), according to Wang Mengshu, the leader of the research team for the project and a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
A proposal for the undersea rail tunnel will be submitted to the State Council soon, China Business Journal reported over the weekend, citing Wang. Trains could run at 250 kilometers per hour on the 123 to 126-kilometer rail tunnel.
An undersea rail tunnel plan was first put forward in the early 1990s but the State Council did not accept any of the proposals from many institutions in the past decades.
The project came up for discussion again recently after the State Council said in a document on August 19 it will step up preparation work for the Bohai Strait tunnel project.
Supporters of the project said it will largely boost development of cities in Shandong Peninsula as well as revitalize old industrial bases in northeastern China.
But opponents worry whether the demand will be strong enough to support operation of the huge project.
Wang’s research team projects passenger traffic in the Bohai area will reach 300 million a year by 2020.
“If 60 to 80 percent of the traffic goes through the undersea tunnel, it will have passenger traffic of 180 to 240 million people a year,” the proposal said.
However, Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University’s School of Management, is doubtful. “The passenger traffic was only 6.54 million in 2011. It’s nearly impossible for any traffic line to have such a jump in passenger traffic [in the years to 2020].”
Zhao said the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway took three years before annual passenger traffic reached 200 million. “How can [traffic flow between Yantai and Dalian] be more than that of the Beijing-Shanghai line?”
Over the past 20 years, many huge projects in China overrun their budgets. These included the South-to-North Water Diversion Project with a budget of 500 billion yuan and the Three Gorges Dam project with a budget of 250 billion yuan.
Experts are worried the tunnel will be another white elephant, Apple Daily reported Monday.
Safety is another concern.
The China Earthquake Networks Center warned in its microblog on August 22 that the project overlaps a major seismic zone in China which has seen several strong earthquakes in the past.
Wang is confident that construction of the project will be completed within 10 years after it is started. “We don’t have any unsolved technical questions right now,” he said.
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