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Thread: Railway to Alaska...

  1. #1
         
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    Railway to Alaska...

    I hope I'm posting this thread in the right place

    Last week there was a conference in Prince George, BC attended by representatives from Alaska, BC, Yukon and I assume the northern border states assembled to discuss the completion of a north / south rail link between Alaska and the continental US.

    In reality its almost built, save for approx. 150 miles, if you take the Dease Lake Route...

    Any thoughts on this potential project and how it may affect economic development in the Northwest...


    Graham.

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Well, as transportation costs increase for trucking (gas costs, highway congestion, etc), rail becomes an increasingly attractive option. A major reason San Antonio landed a Toyota manufacturing plant was its rail access. From what I recall from my transportation & location analysis classes, rail was a significantly cheaper transportation method for longer distance hauls.

    I think it could only help stimulate economic development. I don't know if they would lease usage to Amtrak, but that would probably be a beautiful ride.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Northboy
    I hope I'm posting this thread in the right place

    Last week there was a conference in Prince George, BC attended by representatives from Alaska, BC, Yukon and I assume the northern border states assembled to discuss the completion of a north / south rail link between Alaska and the continental US.

    In reality its almost built, save for approx. 150 miles, if you take the Dease Lake Route...

    Any thoughts on this potential project and how it may affect economic development in the Northwest...


    Graham.
    In reality, the former BCR (British Columbia Railway, now CN) Dease Lake line was mostly graded, but little track was ever laid past Fort Saint James, BC. That is a long way from Dease Lake, BC. Now, the Dease Lake line is likely the easiest line to continue northwestward towards Alaska, easier than the BCR (now CN) Fort Nelson line (Fort Nelson, BC is on the Alaska Highway), but it is still a looooong way from the nearest standard-guage railroad in Alaska, certainly much farther than '150 miles'. The next railroad that it would meet is the narrow-guage White Pass and Yukon railway, a tourist line in Whitehorse, YT. (an aside, I suspect that the looming passport requirement is just going to kill them, as their line crosses the border just north of Skagway, AK) The WP&Y is also still well short of the standard-guage ARR (Alaska RailRoad) at either Anchorage or Fairbanks, AK.

    The ARR currently interchanges with the rest of North America's railroads via a car-float barge ferry service at Whittier, AK.

    This is an idea that has been kicking around since well before the Alaska Highway was built during WWII, and if the 'numbers' are good, I see no reason why it shouldn't be built. However, it will cost a *BUNDLE* to build, requiring a subsidy from both the USA and Canadian federal and state/provincial governments for its construction.

    My expectation of the mix of traffic that it would carry include crude oil (safer in unit trains than in ships), other bulk commodities and containers, as well as tourists wanting to experience such an overland adventure. Kind of like the recently opened north-south transcontinental railway in Australia (their new Darwin line).

    An direct overland connection with the ARR has also been an integral part of the deeper, perhaps even wacko, 'dreams' of a fixed link across the Bering straits, which would be a BUSY import/export corridor *IF* daunting issues relating to money, engineering and international politics could be overcome. It would require THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of km of new trackage through utterly middle-of-nowhere arctic conditions in Russia, more in the rest of eastern Asia, plus about 1500 km of new arctic railway in addition to the thread-topic line in Alaska.

    Mike

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          abrowne's avatar
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    This could be very interesting if the promised construction/expansion of the Prince Rupert deep sea port goes ahead as planned. Problem is, I don't see much purpose for the line, apart from transporting oil from the newly opened Alaska Wilderness areas that won't last longer than 10 years (and are there not pipelines for this already?). Good luck getting Canada and the USA to jointly subsidize a line. Who will own it? I doubt negotiations would be productive.

  5. #5
         
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    In reality, the former BCR (British Columbia Railway, now CN) Dease Lake line was mostly graded, but little track was ever laid past Fort Saint James, BC. That is a long way from Dease Lake, BC. Now, the Dease Lake line is likely the easiest line to continue northwestward towards Alaska, easier than the BCR (now CN) Fort Nelson line (Fort Nelson, BC is on the Alaska Highway), but it is still a looooong way from the nearest standard-guage railroad in Alaska, certainly much farther than '150 miles'. The next railroad that it would meet is the narrow-guage White Pass and Yukon railway, a tourist line in Whitehorse, YT. (an aside, I suspect that the looming passport requirement is just going to kill them, as their line crosses the border just north of Skagway, AK) The WP&Y is also still well short of the standard-guage ARR (Alaska RailRoad) at either Anchorage or Fairbanks, AK.

    The ARR currently interchanges with the rest of North America's railroads via a car-float barge ferry service at Whittier, AK.

    This is an idea that has been kicking around since well before the Alaska Highway was built during WWII, and if the 'numbers' are good, I see no reason why it shouldn't be built. However, it will cost a *BUNDLE* to build, requiring a subsidy from both the USA and Canadian federal and state/provincial governments for its construction.

    My expectation of the mix of traffic that it would carry include crude oil (safer in unit trains than in ships), other bulk commodities and containers, as well as tourists wanting to experience such an overland adventure. Kind of like the recently opened north-south transcontinental railway in Australia (their new Darwin line).

    An direct overland connection with the ARR has also been an integral part of the deeper, perhaps even wacko, 'dreams' of a fixed link across the Bering straits, which would be a BUSY import/export corridor *IF* daunting issues relating to money, engineering and international politics could be overcome. It would require THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of km of new trackage through utterly middle-of-nowhere arctic conditions in Russia, more in the rest of eastern Asia, plus about 1500 km of new arctic railway in addition to the thread-topic line in Alaska.

    Mike

    I understand the line out of Ft. St. James is used up to the flag stop of Chipmunk, which is a good 200 KM north of that thriving metropolis

    You're probably right about the 150 miles, I can't vouch for the source of that comment, however the track bed is in almost to Dease Lake and I understand, from the ex BCR manager in the area, that with some work, the bed can accept track relatively easily. There is another route that is being discussed though that will roughly follow the proposed pipeline right of way closer to Alberta. I haven't heard which route is in the running. Lots of dollars either way and the passport thing would cause some problems.

    Would make a nice trip though....

    Graham.

  6. #6
         
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    This could be very interesting if the promised construction/expansion of the Prince Rupert deep sea port goes ahead as planned. Problem is, I don't see much purpose for the line, apart from transporting oil from the newly opened Alaska Wilderness areas that won't last longer than 10 years (and are there not pipelines for this already?). Good luck getting Canada and the USA to jointly subsidize a line. Who will own it? I doubt negotiations would be productive.
    Port development in Prince Rupert serves the East West corridor and I understand the container port for Alberta is slated for Grand Prairie.

    This development is going ahead as the Fed. has announced 2 b. for Vancouver and Prince Rupert port development. The sticky issue at this time is who is going to run it..

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    Quote Originally posted by Northboy
    Port development in Prince Rupert serves the East West corridor and I understand the container port for Alberta is slated for Grand Prairie.

    This development is going ahead as the Fed. has announced 2 b. for Vancouver and Prince Rupert port development. The sticky issue at this time is who is going to run it..
    I don't understand what you mean about Grand Prairie. A port? You mean... a container switching yard?

    So what use will a new rail line to Alaska be, really? Aside from oil, which may dwindle before this line even gets built, what is there that can sustain the rail line?

  8. #8
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    It would require THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of km of new trackage through utterly middle-of-nowhere arctic conditions in Russia, more in the rest of eastern Asia, plus about 1500 km of new arctic railway in addition to the thread-topic line in Alaska.
    Not to mention the different gauges used in North America (1435 mm) and Russia (1520 mm). Either very expensive multi-gauge rolling stock must be used, or the railroad on one side of the strait must completely change their gauge.

    Rolling stock in Eurasia is also much different than in North America. Even when the gauge is the same, the couplers aren't compatible.

    I've contemplated a trans-Bearing roadway, but the engineering and logistics challenes will be overwhelming. The availability of fuel supplies and overnight accomodation, providing motor patrol and safety services, snow removal, building on permafrost, and so on -- all of which is possible, but extremely espensive. It would be much cheaper and faster to ship goods by cargo vessel, if not air, than to truck them across Alaska and Siberia. Imagine Grandma and Grandpa Jones from Florida taking their RV for a trip on the Trans-Siberian Highway ... they wouldn't survive.

    I'm still holding out for a route across the Darien Gap.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  9. #9
         
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    I don't understand what you mean about Grand Prairie. A port? You mean... a container switching yard?

    So what use will a new rail line to Alaska be, really? Aside from oil, which may dwindle before this line even gets built, what is there that can sustain the rail line?
    The press releases refer to the proposed facility in Grand Prairie as a "Container Port" I suppose the same way some facilites are now called "Truck Ports". You are right of course the facility would probably be better described as a "Container Switching Yard".

    As far as the economic possibilities represented by the proposed North / South Corridor, I'd have to leave that to those that are closer to the subject, but I suspect oil will be transported by pipeline and the rail line may lead to opening new industrial opportunities such as forestry and mining for examples. Alaska is a resource rich state IMHO.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    One should point out that sea shipping is the cheapest way to move goods (in terms of tonnage per mile), so any overland system would be a premium service. A very circuitous route through Russia might not even be much of a speed improvement.

    As far as oil shipping from Alaska... that has possibilities, but it'd still be more expensive than oil tankers, so there'd have to be disincentives put in place against shipping in tankers, and I don't imagine the oil companies would allow that.

    Quote Originally posted by Northboy
    The press releases refer to the proposed facility in Grand Prairie as a "Container Port" I suppose the same way some facilites are now called "Truck Ports". You are right of course the facility would probably be better described as a "Container Switching Yard"..
    Those are called "intermodal ports" here. Chicago is the largest intermodal port in the Western Hemisphere.
    Last edited by Tranplanner; 13 Apr 2005 at 3:10 PM. Reason: post consolidation

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    The WP&Y is also still well short of the standard-guage ARR (Alaska RailRoad) at either Anchorage or Fairbanks, AK.

    Mike
    This is a nice dream, but Mike is correct in that there is no railroad to connect to in Alaska until you reach the end of the AlCan in Fairbanks. A railroad was looked at as an alternative for transporting oil when Prudhoe Bay and the North Slope Oil fields were developed. My understanding of some of the "negatives" for this approach boiled down to 1. The U.S. having to share tax revenues with Canada which would result from an overland route and 2. Railroads aren't new, exciting and high-tech enough to grab policy-makers' interest unlike the engineering required to create the AK Pipeline. An overland natural gas pipeline through Canada has been discussed over the years for transporting the huge reserves of natural gas from the North Slope. Consideration #1 I'm sure is at play on this decision as well.

    As a side note, a large part of the AK Pipeline is above ground due to permafrost conditions. When it was constructed, there was a major concern that the caribou herds would refuse to cross under the pipelines. At least someone had done their research and noted that 50 million buffalo died as a result of rhe herds refusing to cross the railroad tracks on the western American prairies and starved to death as a result. This is one part of western expansion and railroad history that often gets overlooked.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Follow the $$
    At least someone had done their research and noted that 50 million buffalo died as a result of rhe herds refusing to cross the railroad tracks on the western American prairies and starved to death as a result. This is one part of western expansion and railroad history that often gets overlooked.
    It wasn't only the railroads that caused this. The settlers' trails that crisscrossed the west were up to 50 miles wide. These were areas that were almost stripped barren by those passing through and heavily contributed to the death of buffalo (they wouldn't cross them) and the indians who relied on them.

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    Seems to me that a railway will only be useful compared to sea transport if the good is something that will last decades and has to be transported inland (avoiding the delay of going to port as a ship). All transport modes that utilize the standard shipping crate are remarkably efficient, so that isn't a huge issue, I don't think. It's mostly permanence. A boat can be used off and on, and can be withdrawn as the reason for shipping diminishes, but a rail line is built at great expense and then has to be USED to make it worthwhile.

  14. #14
         
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    A quick update...

    Our local paper has just run a story stating the Canadian Government is willing to assist in funding a feasibility study on this proposal. If anyone wants details, I'll be happy to accomodate

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    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    I am sure there would be great financial benefits. But all I know is that it would be a great trip up to Alaska.

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    Quote Originally posted by Trail Nazi
    I am sure there would be great financial benefits. But all I know is that it would be a great trip up to Alaska.
    There is a huge port construction effort underway ($500mil) in Prince Rupert, with an expanded rail link to Prince George and the interior of Canada. With this northern port, seems strange to contruct a new railway into Alaska. *shrug* Will be interesting to see how it develops.

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