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Taking the midnight train to Fairbanks

Hart Attacks: I don’t think I have to rush to pack for a ride on the first train north

While it is good news the first grain shipments in about four years are moving by rail to the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba this fall — all destined for eastern markets — it was a couple of other railway projects on the other side of the prairies with plans to ship commodities west that recently caught my attention.

Somehow I had missed or forgot about plans of the Alberta to Alaska Railway (A2A Rail) project until a glossy brochure showed up in my mailbox confirming that the project is alive and well and moving forward.

The A2A Rail is an ambitious 2,400-kilometre project that would link northern Alberta — Edmonton and Fort McMurray — to ports near Anchorage, Alaska.

The privately-owned rail line would operate 24 hours a day to carry “commodities, containers, natural resources and people” both ways, obviously. Apparently the ports at Anchorage and along the Alaskan coast are four days closer to Asian markets than any other port on the west coast of North America. It is expected the completed project would provide “a critical import/export link in the Pacific.” One of the major resource products they expect to carry is a million to a million-and-a-half barrels of bitumen per day.

The estimated cost of building the A2A rail line from Alberta and linking up with an existing rail line at Delta Junction, Alaska, would be about $17 billion — that’s just slightly more than the player salaries of an NBA franchise.

But wait. There is more. I further learned it is not only one company looking to build this northern rail link, but two. G7G (Generating for Seven Generations) has also for several years been looking into the feasibility of building a rail line from northern Alberta, through northern B.C., and the Yukon to Alaska. That project, according to earlier news reports, was looking to also haul all commodities, including crude oil, to Alaskan ports at an estimated construction cost of about $27 billion — roughly the salary actor Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson gets for each of his movies. While G7G will carry a wide range of commodities to different Alaskan ports, crude oil would be offloaded to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) and piped to Valdez, now one of the safest, oil-handling ports in the world.

Both A2A and G7G emphasize the economic significance of building and operating a rail line. It would be a two-way street linking Pacific Rim countries to North America and vice-versa. G7G estimates their project would create about 40,000 construction jobs, up to 2,000 permanent jobs and 20,000 or more associated jobs. The A2A project says of their estimated $17 billion construction cost, about $14 billion would be spent in Canada. A2A has already raised about $60 million from private investors and are actively recruiting more funds.

Aside from the economic and engineering complexities of these projects, both companies report they have preliminary, but widespread support of Indigenous communities in both Canada and Alaska for a railway project.

But as we Canadians know, having support and even approval of Indigenous communities directly affected by a particular construction project isn’t always sufficient. Something called then Trans Mountain Pipeline comes to mind.

So… two railway projects both looking to move resources, commodities and people along a northern rail route. I haven’t read anything that says the market needs or can handle two of these rail projects, so if something does go ahead I’m guessing it all depends who can first raise the funds, obtain all environmental approvals, and get all indigenous communities to sign off. I think that leaves me plenty of time before I need to head to the station for the maiden rail excursion.

To learn more about the projects visit the respective company websites: A2ARail.com and g7grailway.com.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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