From dream to reality: Proposed railway would connect Alaska to the rest of the continent by rail

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Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:53 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - For nearly a century there has been talk of connecting Alaska to the lower-48 by rail. The line would bring jobs to the state as well as help with shipping times from the heartland of America to Asian markets. Now, a company called Alaska to Alberta railroad (A2A Railway) is working to make that dream a reality.

“The next generation of Alaskan’s is going to see a railroad that connects to the lower-48 to the North American rail grid system. And it’s a long sought dream but there appear to be good economics to make it happen,” said Mead Treadwell, the Vice Chair for Alaska with the A2A Railway.

If everything goes to plan they hope to have the railway completed within the next 10 years, bringing freight to and from the Port of Alaska in Anchorage. Treadwell said that they would need to run 10 large trains a day on the track to fund building the railroad. Currently there are tracks in North America as far as northern Alberta, but the proposed rail route would extend those to the current end of the Alaska Railroad in North Pole.

“The Alaska Railroad right now runs 512 miles from Seward to North Pole we’re going to take that track and extend it 1500 miles to connect up with rail lines in Alberta,” Treadwell said.

He said there are many reasons to build the rail line, “So imagine that a factory in Japan is making parts that go into an auto factory in Detroit and they have a tight deadline. This will be the fastest way to get goods from North America to the Pacific or from the Pacific to North America, that rail ship combination.” He said the railway could reduce the time it takes to ship cargo by two to three days.

The railway would also bring increased revenue to the state and help develop mining, logging and tourism industries in the Interior. During the construction of the railroad, Treadwell says they expect an additional 6,000 to 8,000 jobs will be created in Alaska. After construction is completed, he said there will be hundreds of permanent positions in maintenance and operation of the line. Treadwell said it could raise the GDP for rural communities on the rail line by 40%.

The proposed route of the A2A railway which would connect the Alaska Railroad to the rest of...
The proposed route of the A2A railway which would connect the Alaska Railroad to the rest of North America's rail system.(Courtesy: A2A Railroad)

The proposed route would also increase the revenue of the Alaska Railroad as the route would use their trains between Anchorage and Fairbanks. He said because of the increased traffic, there may need to be upgrades to existing rail line, as well as the new construction.

The project is expected to cost around $15 billion to complete and will be funded by private investors. A2A recently announced a proposed route for the railway and is now working with the Federal Government on permits to be able to cross the border with Canada. He said that Alaska Governor Dunleavy and Congressman Don Young, as well as the other members of the state congressional delegation have been helping work with the federal government in getting the permits approved. Treadwell said they hope to complete the permits within two to three years and then begin working on construction of the railway.

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