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How about a train to Alaska? Talk about experiential!

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jis

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Seems like a waste of money. Oil is cheap right now, and demand for it will decrease over time. I can't imagine the capital costs are worth it with oil at $40 a barrel.
As I was saying.... the current mindset does not support such an expansion of rail infrastructure in the US. :cool:
 

jiml

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Why? I thought there were Canadian plans on building a pipeline that would carry that oil to a port located in British Columbia..
I could tell you the tale, but it would involve a foray into forbidden political discussion.;) The story is out there - Google "Trudeau buys a pipeline" and draw your own conclusions. If you remember the rail shutdown in Canada before Covid, that's what caused it. With environmental and first nations' opposition, the pipeline has about as much chance of being completed as the railway we're discussing here.
 

cocojacoby

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Costly and environmentally-unfriendly construction methods are not likely to win approval from the Canadian government nor native groups whose land would have to be crossed.

Alberta and the NWT would be much friendlier to job-creating development if it ever gets that far.
You know there is a growing "Wexit" movement in Alberta to leave Canada, right? This just may be the stimulus that makes it succeed. There is even talk of some of the western provinces joining the USA.

Alberta’s secession movement spells trouble for Justin Trudeau

The Americas
Dec 5th 2019 edition
EDMONTON

The 700 people who gathered on a recent Saturday night at the Boot Scootin’ Boogie Dancehall in Edmonton, the capital of the western Canadian province of Alberta, came not to boogie but to vent. Baseball caps for sale bore such slogans as “Make Alberta Great Again”, “The West Wants Out” and “Wexit”. On stage, before a Canadian flag held between hockey sticks and pointed upside down, Peter Downing recited the grievances that drew the crowd: cancelled plans to build oil pipelines, subsidies paid to the rest of Canada and snobbery towards Alberta from the central Canadian provinces.
 

MARC Rider

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On the other hand, having a rail connection capable of operating through winter to the 49th state is a worthwhile goal from a public policy standpoint in and of itself, and if it can mostly pay for itself by transferring oil from our good friend and ally to existing infrastructure (pipeline/Valdez terminal) in Alaska then so much the better. Believe me, I'm all for it; I'm just skeptical that there's enough will to do it to sustain it until completion.
I'm not sure that enabling the entrance of more petroleum into the world market is such a good public policy goal. Our long-term goal in terms of both mitigating climate change and protecting our national security should be to reduce the amount of petroleum available to the markets, so that alternative technologies regimes can get a competitive advantage. In that way. greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and the strategic value of petroleum is also reduced. That Canadian oil should be staying in the ground where it belongs.
 

WWW

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The existing system works just fine !

Imagine all the tunnels that would have to be made to get to where float planes fly to -
Track space for a locomotive and 1 coach car at the dock - no wye to turn around -
Building tracks into pristine wilderness not now not even in the distant future -
Oil talk about moving it from Canada across the USA upper mid west fraught with problems -
What is different here -
There is a pipeline - isn't that enough movement of the oil without further environmental damage -

Count this as a rich man's toy train set dream - to what end - - - - - Yes I like to dream too !
 

jiml

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I'll renew my previously Posted idea for the US and Canada to swap Alaska for Alberta and British Columbia.

Win! Win!🤗
You'd be getting some very pretty country (and great rail routes), but the two new "states" are polar opposites in everything from politics to environmental issues. Think Texas and California with everything that entails.
 

Bob Dylan

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You'd be getting some very pretty country (and great rail routes), but the two new "states" are polar opposites in everything from politics to environmental issues. Think Texas and California with everything that entails.
Having lived in BC,Alberta,California and Texas, I know what you mean!

My late Canadian wife, an NDPer and proud Canuck, used to get upset when I would tease her with this proposal! 🤣
 
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neroden

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IMO the Bering Strait connection is a non-starter; it's just too remote and there's not nearly enough traffic. It would take nearly as long for freight trains to take the roundabout route from China through Siberia to the Strait and down through Alaska and Canada as it would to send a fast container ship direct from Asia to Seattle...
It's faster. "Nearly" means quicker. It's not that roundabout because of, you know, the shape of the globe.

and ocean shipping is dirt cheap.
....not with the tightening of regulations on fuel-burning. Ships are substantially less fuel-efficient than rail. Currently it's cheap because it uses very cheap fuel, but they all have to upgrade to refined marine diesel under the new international treaty regulations. And more regulations will come down the pike after that. I suspect that that changes the calculation of how cheap it is. A LOT.

Passenger transit is an even more blue-sky idea; you'd get more travelers by putting a couple of dozen passenger cabins on those container freighters.
The container freighters actually do sell passenger cabin space. :)

To Jis's point regarding strategy, Russia already considers this a strategic plan and is building the rail line out towards the Bering Strait all on its own with or without US support.

I don't think the plan to export oil from Alberta has a chance. The Bering Strait plan will probably be revived, though. By Russia.
 

Seaboard92

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Honestly I have always seen this as a low hanging fruit. Yes it is a very expensive and complicated fruit. But it is something that would be relatively difficult.

Imagine if you could load an intermodal train in inland China and run all the way to inland USA without having to change railcars. Just locomotives.

Now I'll list all of the problems this has.

-Gauge: China, Canada, and the USA are standard gauge, Russia is on Russian Broad Gauge
-Ring of Fire: This is one of the most active volcanic and earthquake prone regions in the world
-Mountains: Alaska has a ton of mountains one would have to fight to get anywhere near the current Alaska Railroad, and then even more to reach a Canadian Railway.
-Lack of population: That part of Russia and Alaska is scarcely populated. Which means there are no services available to maintain the line. The lack of population is more than about passenger services, but the fact you have to have employees every so many miles for maintenance inspections, signal maintainers, and others. They need to have an ability to get food in, and schools for the kids. It would be a massive undertaking.

That being said I would be the first person to board a train in Chicago to go to Beijing. And I would jump off at every extended dwell stop to photograph the journey.
 

Siegmund

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Honestly I have always seen this as a low hanging fruit. Yes it is a very expensive and complicated fruit. But it is something that would be relatively difficult.

Imagine if you could load an intermodal train in inland China and run all the way to inland USA without having to change railcars. Just locomotives.

Now I'll list all of the problems this has.

-Gauge: China, Canada, and the USA are standard gauge, Russia is on Russian Broad Gauge
-Ring of Fire: This is one of the most active volcanic and earthquake prone regions in the world
-Mountains: Alaska has a ton of mountains one would have to fight to get anywhere near the current Alaska Railroad, and then even more to reach a Canadian Railway.
-Lack of population: That part of Russia and Alaska is scarcely populated. Which means there are no services available to maintain the line. The lack of population is more than about passenger services, but the fact you have to have employees every so many miles for maintenance inspections, signal maintainers, and others. They need to have an ability to get food in, and schools for the kids. It would be a massive undertaking.

That being said I would be the first person to board a train in Chicago to go to Beijing. And I would jump off at every extended dwell stop to photograph the journey.
I have to disagree with the Ring of Fire and Mountains objections.

These are issues with BC, and the southern coast of Alaska. There doesn't have to be a 1% grade anywhere between Edmonton and the Bering Strait.

You can have a water level route all the way across Alaska if you want one. (A choice of two, whether you go up the Yukon or the Tanana. Going up the Tanana gets you the Alaska Railroad connection for free.) You can save a lot of distance in western AK by climbing very gradually to 1500 feet and back down (for instance via the Nulato and Shaktoolik rivers), and a bit more if you are willing to climb a little farther.

Getting from the Yukon river drainage to the Mackenzie river drainage involves a pass on the Alaska Highway east of Whitehorse -- which is why the old proposals (and I assume the newer ones too) go through Carmacks roughly parallel to the the Campbell Highway rather than the Alaska Highway, and why the new proposals come in via the Peace River country rather than following the 70s BC rail route to Dease Lake.

You do have some modest earthquake risk if you follow the Alaska Highway's route through the Yukon - though the 2002 earthquake was as big as was possible in the region and did almost no damage to highways or the pipeline.

Really the only problem, on the North American side, is the long distance with no population centers or sources of traffic.
 
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jiml

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I believe the current proposal - the one that has received recent attention on both sides of the border and spawned this thread - does not enter British Columbia at all. The two most prevalent past ones did originate in BC (connecting at Dease Lake - parts of route incomplete or abandoned) or cross the corner via Fort Nelson. The latter (2015) also started with a connection to the existing Northern Alberta Railway (now CN) at Hay River, NWT, like the current one.

Really the only problem, on the North American side, is the long distance with no population centers or sources of traffic.
That's a really good point, even if you're not worried about passengers or supplementary freight traffic enroute. From a railroad operations perspective, how do they handle crew changes or rescue a disabled train in the middle of nowhere?
 

jiml

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Further to this discussion, the following excerpt from an NWT government transportation document may be helpful in understanding some of the history and hurdles faced by any proposal. The bolded sections are of particular interest and were reflected in earlier posts in this thread.

"The NWT is connected to the national rail system by CN Rail, which operates a 311 kilometre single-track line extending from High Level, Alberta, to Hay River, NWT. This is the northernmost rail service in Canada, constructed by the Government of Canada in 1961 to 1964 to support base metal mining operations along the southwestern shore of Great Slave Lake. CN Rail reacquired the Meander River Subdivision in 2006 in recognition of the revenue potential for the line related to future resource development in the NWT. Rail equipment personnel and operations are regulated by Transport Canada.
- Approximately 3,000 rail car loads deliver cargo, mainly bulk fuel, from southern Canada to Hay River each year.
- There is minimal return cargo on rail cars routed back south to Alberta.
- Speed limits, weight restrictions and capital investment are continually required by CN Rail to operate and maintain the Meander River Subdivision, especially over sections underlain by permafrost, making it one of the most costly subdivisions to operate in CN Rail’s system.
- Future expansion of the rail system serving the NWT is dependent upon resource
development needs.

Although an extension of the NWT rail system is not anticipated in the near future, rail traffic on the existing line may increase beyond current levels in response to resource development activities. CN has plans to continue investing in the current rail system to maintain and incrementally improve existing capacity of the line."
 
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jis

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-Gauge: China, Canada, and the USA are standard gauge, Russia is on Russian Broad Gauge
Given today's gauge change on the fly technology, different gauges is not as big a problem as it as has been assumed to be in the past Heck China just announced a gauge changing HSR based on Velaro too. As time passes gauge change will tend to be become much less of a problem. Yes it will require specially equipped cars, but not an insurmountable issue.

There really are much bigger and more insurmountable issues of no enroute traffic, and expensive issues of laying stable track on permafrost. The Russians can inform as at length of their trials and travaials on the latter as they progressively build out their system towards Bering Strait.
 

Siegmund

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I believe the current proposal - the one that has received recent attention on both sides of the border and spawned this thread - does not enter British Columbia at all.
The politics of entering BC must be incredible, to make them zigzag up and down and all around in far eastern Yukon rather than building up the Liard River where any sane surveyor would place it. That 200 miles will have more curves and grades than the next 1000 beyond it.
 

Devil's Advocate

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You know there is a growing "Wexit" movement in Alberta to leave Canada, right? This just may be the stimulus that makes it succeed. There is even talk of some of the western provinces joining the USA.
Any attempt to separate will likely to experience the same result as Quebec, but for the sake of argument let's consider how the British strategy is going. Brexit is becoming an obstacle and distraction to economic recovery and is likely to further weaken Britain's negotiating leverage over time. So far as I can tell the only winning move required a chain reaction of successive breakups within the EU followed by a big push for more favorable terms in a series of hastily negotiated bilateral agreements. Since that outcome does not appear to be in the cards most of Brexit's potential upside is unlikely to ever be realized. At this point Britain's bargaining position looks increasingly precarious, both in terms of forcing their will upon EU countries and dissuading further division from within the UK itself. It's hard for me to see the appeal of following in such footsteps but maybe that's just me.
 
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sttom

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That's a really good point, even if you're not worried about passengers or supplementary freight traffic enroute. From a railroad operations perspective, how do they handle crew changes or rescue a disabled train in the middle of nowhere?
One solution would be to give people a free housing....but that still won't take away from them being hundreds of miles from nowhere. My guess would be you'd have to rotate people up there since I would imagine it would be very boring living several hundred miles from towns with a population greater than 1000 people.
 

railiner

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“If you build it, they will come”, (with apologies to “Field of Dreams”).🙂

When they built the Pacific Railroad a century and a half ago through the wilderness, they had to bring their own labor and supplies with them. And they had to establish settlements at intervals, to provide permanent support for operations and maintenance. Many of these grew into villages and cities over time.

While the land along this proposed railway does not have the same potential for agriculture and use, as some of the Pacific Railroad did, I can still envision some development.... probably more than say a pipeline would have...
 

ehbowen

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“If you build it, they will come”, (with apologies to “Field of Dreams”).🙂

When they built the Pacific Railroad a century and a half ago through the wilderness, they had to bring their own labor and supplies with them. And they had to establish settlements at intervals, to provide permanent support for operations and maintenance. Many of these grew into villages and cities over time.

While the land along this proposed railway does not have the same potential for agriculture and use, as some of the Pacific Railroad did, I can still envision some development.... probably more than say a pipeline would have...
Agreed, with provisos. If you want them to "come" you need to find a way for "them" to earn a profit. And more of a profit than one can make working for a railroad...if that's the "top of the food chain", then your growth will be limited. The kind of society you build will depend on what kind of a profit "they" can make...if it's possible, and encouraged, to make and to retain an honest profit, then you will attract honest people and build an honest society. But if the only way to make a profit is through graft, or cronyism, or exploitation...well, you do the math.
 

jiml

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“If you build it, they will come”, (with apologies to “Field of Dreams”).🙂

When they built the Pacific Railroad a century and a half ago through the wilderness, they had to bring their own labor and supplies with them. And they had to establish settlements at intervals, to provide permanent support for operations and maintenance. Many of these grew into villages and cities over time.

While the land along this proposed railway does not have the same potential for agriculture and use, as some of the Pacific Railroad did, I can still envision some development.... probably more than say a pipeline would have...
While that certainly used to be the case, it's important to remember that historically railroads were built by what amounted to slave labor - whether domestic or imported (from China for example). They were underpaid and often lived in squalid conditions. That's not going to fly today. Remote work premiums are common now and would add exponentially to the cost, and workers aren't going to live in tents trackside during the build. I presume we'd see a situation similar to the "mobile homes" on flatcars often seen at railroad worksites, but even keeping those supplied with provisions and fuel for generators, etc., is not a cheap proposition.
 
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