Alaska Railroad pens agreement on rail connection to Lower 48 - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, December 15, 2019
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Alaska Railroad pens agreement on rail connection to Lower 48

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).

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • 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.

  • Build rails to Nome too.

    • 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.

  • 2,400 kilometers

  • 2 400 kilomet (re) s

    • You spelled “1,500 miles” wrong.

  • 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.

  • How will this impact trucking?

    • 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

  • Build rail to Juneau…..

    Ride the Alaska Canadian rail.
    Nome to Nova Scotia

  • The link to the Summary of the Agreement wasn’t working at 8:46 a.m. ADT.

  • Can you say, “Oil Train” ? But I would like to ride the rails from Seward to Miami!!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • What possible route is there?

  • 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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