New northern railroad on the drawing board

Yukon First Nation chiefs were lobbied to support an Alaska-Canada railway during the Council of Yukon First Nations leadership meetings this week.

Yukon First Nation chiefs were lobbied to support an Alaska-Canada railway during the Council of Yukon First Nations leadership meetings this week.

The company trying to garner support says the proposed railway could present an alternative to the Alaska Highway Pipeline project and also to Enbridge’s contentious Northern Gateway pipeline.

The idea is being touted by G7G, or Generating for Seven Generations Ltd. It’s a Canadian company focused on aboriginal business development. It is headed by Matt Vickers and includes actor and Officer of the Order of Canada Tom Jackson as a partner.

But the Alaska-Canada railway isn’t a new idea.

It has been proposed and considered since 1923. Its popularity seems to rise and fall with the value of northern mineral and petroleum resources.

Most recently, the Alaska-Canada rail link was a major priority for former Yukon premier Dennis Fentie and his Alaskan counterpart, former governor Frank Murkowski.

More than $6 million was spent on a joint initiative to complete a feasibility study in 2005.

An advisory committee was formed, which included Andy Carvill, CYFN grand chief at the time and Dave Porter, then-chair of the Kaska Tribal Council.

That project, just like the many renditions of it for the 80 years prior, was eventually put on the shelf.

This time, the focus is on aboriginal involvement.

“The First Nations fully support the concept because, in reality, if we don’t take the initiative, somebody else will,” said Chief Simon Mervyn, of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun.

“The conceptual vision for 50 to 100 years is, of course, it will happen,” said Mervyn. “The proposal is for industry and tourism. It could get better service to the Yukon and economic sustainability for First Nations. It would be fully-owned, fully-initiated and fully-driven by First Nations of Yukon. The whole concept is to move oil by land rather than the Inside Passage down in B.C.”

The route G7G is proposing for the railway would serve both the Alberta oilsands and Alaska’s North Slope. The actual rail line would run from Fort McMurray to Watson Lake and then cut diagonally across southern Yukon to link up to the Alyeska Pipeline at Delta Junction in Alaska. That pipeline runs to Valdez, which serves as a major port for tanker traffic to international markets.

The pipeline’s first phase is expected to cost $12 billion or more.

“First Nations are waiting breathlessly for the outcome of the feasibility study,” Mervyn said, after the G7G’s presentation.

“This concept has been on the table for years. Several of them have been gathering dust. But business is business.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com