Alaska Railroad pens agreement on rail connection to Lower 48

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The Alaska Railroad Corporation and the Alaska to Alberta Railway Development Corporation signed a master agreement of cooperation to build a 1,500-mile connection between the Alaska Railroad and Canadian railroads that serve the Lower 48.

The agreement was announced after approval by the Alaska Railroad Corporation Board of Directors today.

The two railroad companies will cooperate in applying to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for a right-of-way guaranteed under state law for a rail connection to Canada. They will then develop a joint operating plan that will specify the new track needed to connect Alaska’s rail to Canada, and upgrades needed for rail facilities, bridges, and track on the Alaska Railroad’s line that runs from Seward to North Pole.

The entire project is expected to cost approximately $13 billion, according to a press release from the Alaska Railroad Corp. Full construction would begin after a right-of-way is approved by state authorities, a presidential border crossing permit is received, environmental reviews are conducted by the U.S. and Canada, and two national agencies – the Surface Transportation Board in the US and the Canadian Transportation Agency – give their approvals.

Various Native groups in Canada and Alaska Native entities, whose traditional lands are crossed by the route, have been consulted and invited to participate in the economic benefits of the project. A full project description for the rail link in the U.S. and Canada is expected to be completed this year.

“A rail connection between Alaska and Canada and the rest of the United States is a project that has been talked and dreamed about for close to a century,” said Alaska Railroad President and CEO Bill O’Leary. “Completing that connection has amazing potential for Alaska and this agreement between the Alaska Railroad and A2A Rail is an important first step to get the project underway.”

“We are pleased to reach this milestone with the Alaska Railroad,” said Sean McCoshen, CEO and co-founder of A2A Rail. “It will help assure global investors that obtaining a right-of-way in Alaska is achievable, and sets up major cooperation in permitting, operations, and marketing with the Alaska Railroad. We expect this project to generate significant economic activity in Alaska and Canada.”

Read the summary of the master agreement here.

In operation since 1923, the Alaska Railroad is a full-service passenger and freight railroad with more than 650 miles of track and more than 600 full-time year-round employees. It is owned by the State of Alaska and governed by a seven-member board appointed by the governor.

The Alaska – Alberta Railway Development Corporation was established by Sean McCoshen to build, own, and operate a new railway connecting the Alaska Railroad and Alaska tidewater ports to northern Alberta (1,500 miles).

22 COMMENTS

  1. Apparently state law doesn’t guarantee anything so I’d be careful with that assumption. But it would be a great project to see come to fruition.

    • Agreed.

      BTW, not just Nome but the Canada route. Wonder how much impact economically this will have on Seattle to Alaska shipping?

      • I don’t think much since most of the barge traffic comes off the West Coast anyway and routing it to Alberta would cost more and probably not save any time.

  2. Wow! The economic potential on this is massive!

    1. Less cost to get bulk items from the Lower 48 vs existing barge.
    2. I would suspect a lot more bulk coming in on a constant basis vs barge can be delayed by weather
    3. Increased tourism (yuk), but I’d bet more hotels filling up since those on the train would not be using motor homes.
    4. Reduced costs for military, not just cost of large items, but PCS moves of personnel.

    I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot more, but this is very interesting. Sadly I can imagine the fights we will have with the eco-wacko groups and not in my back yard bunches, but that can be worked out.

    • What I would think. Trucking to the Canadian border, containers then put on trains. Thus amount of 18 wheelers on the ALCAN will lessen except for local runs.

      Same question on sea shipping. If no rail to Juneau, then the shipping from Seattle to Juneau would not change, and if no rail to Nome that will not change either. But I see an overall reduction in sea transportation. Along with that a decrease in cost for shipping overall.

      • most food stuff shiped by truck will continue as rail
        shipping of time sesitive foods is to unrieliable

    • Paul – Thanks for the heads up. I relinked it and it seems to work again. Here is the summary:

      Summary of June 27, 2019 Master Agreement
      between the Alaska Railroad Corporation & the Alaska to Alberta Railway

      · In 2004, the State of Alaska passed legislation, SB 31, codified in AS 42.40.460 and AS 42.40.465, to encourage the expedited construction of a railroad to connect Alaska to the North American railroad system (“Project”). Pursuant to AS 42.40.460 and AS 42.40.465, the ARRC has authority to apply to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) for a 500-foot transportation corridor to complete railroad service to the Alaska and Canada border and to work with private parties to advance the Project in order to connect the North American rail system to the Alaska Railroad.

      · The ARRC and A2A have entered into a historic agreement (“Master Agreement”) that establishes the commercial structure for this Project and will allow the Project’s investors to advance this Project into the feasibility phase and then, if successful, into construction and operation.

      · More specifically, the Master Agreement announces a partnership between the ARRC and A2A where the parties will work together on completing feasibility studies, environmental review, permitting and marketing and establishes a framework for negotiating multiple project-enabling agreements.

      · Under the Master Agreement, A2A will bear the Project costs and, if the Project is completed, will receive a long-term lease from the ARRC to operate the new railroad. Costs incurred by the ARRC to advance the Project will be reimbursed by A2A.

      · Over the past few years, A2A has contracted with the world’s leading railroad engineering and environmental consulting firms, actively engaged with indigenous communities in both Alaska and Canada, filed a draft application with the United States State Department to secure a Presidential Permit for the border crossing, entered into a Project Undertaking Reimbursement Agreement with the United States Customs & Border Protection Agency, and begun the assemblage of base line data needed for the Project. A2A will soon commence the “460 Process” with the DNR to secure a railroad corridor between Delta Junction and the Canadian border and will also commence the pre-filing process with the United States Surface Transportation Board to initiate an Environmental Impact Statement and secure a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. A2A Rail intends to connect and interchange with the ARRC at the end of its existing mainline at North Pole (or Delta Junction, if the currently permitted Northern Rail Extension is completed by ARRC), which provides access to ports at tidewater.

      Benefits of the Project:
      • Higher use of ARRC facilities and greater revenues.

      • Better service to Alaska’s resource industry while maintaining passenger service.

      • Diversifies Alaska’s economy by creating new jobs during and after construction of the railway.

      • Expands Alaska’s transportation infrastructure to gain access to global markets.

      • Increases national security with critical infrastructure that will improve our military’s supply routes and increase our military’s access to training grounds in the Arctic.

      • Reduces ocean-going freight time between Asia and North America by allowing cargo to avoid congested West Coast ports.

      • Improves environmental quality and stewardship by transporting goods to world markets in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.

      – sd

  3. I wonder how this might be effected by the desire of some to convert our rail to bullet train capacity especially as it relates to such a long, rural route? Of course, a bullet train hitting a moose at 200 MPH might be a bad scene.

  4. Concept makes a great deal of sense – closest N. American marine-rail terminal to Asian markets. Currently the closest is Port of Prince Rupert – from website: “The Port of Prince Rupert is North America’s closest port to Asia by up to three days sailing – it’s 36 hours closer to Shanghai than Vancouver and over 68 hours closer than Los Angeles.”

    Also funny to contrast the generally positive comments on MRAK with the negative comments on ADN.

    • But the quedtion is:

      1)Can Alaska ports handle the kind of volume Vancouver and LA see?
      2)Does the time saved from Sailing still weigh against the added over-land and port dwell time? The new extension would be 1500 miles, but is that Port to Port, or just the new track?

      Assuming 70mph (thats what UP and BNSF can do with Stackers across the Middle of Nowhere, SW USA, thats still a 20hour jump. US Crew laws require crews ro change out no later than 12hours, so two crews and probably a refuel, thats one day overland. Then once that train lands in Canada, they’ll ha e to reclassify. If they are smart, the Containers would be preblocked in Alaska but that still takes time. Is saving a day worth changing to a new port? Time will tell.

  5. Any cost beyond the border of Canada is at the Canadians cost. Not the state of Alaska or the Railroad. This is not an interstate agreement. It is with another country. If Canada wants help, Ask the Queen!!! Not the State of Alaska. We already have trucking by the hundreds going through Canada and that is far less cost than what this will be to the State and to the rest of the US. Passengers tickets from one end of Canada to the East is about $6,000 today. Canada isn’t hurting for connection to all continents. Canada has never done a thing to help move transportation for our benefit. They wanted to help with the Oil pipeline to the Us east coast and got over $500 million dollars. What did we get in return? Nothing!!! That is where it is at this point.

  6. As a railroad employee in the lower 48, I can almost guarantee this will never happen, or it will take many unnecessary years to complete. Too many people and entities have an input, and I’m betting the courts on both side will be clogged with challenges and appeals. It’s a fantastic idea, but I see the tree huggers and the like ruining it. Best of luck.

  7. A very exciting prospect of years of dreaming. But will it ever really happen? Stay tuned…and assume more years of construction than planned and many cost overruns if it is ever to be.

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