Train study overlooks tourism

Tuesday, Premier Dennis Fentie unveiled the long-awaited Yukon/Alaska railway feasibility study. He was accompanied by Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, Premier Dennis Fentie unveiled the long-awaited Yukon/Alaska railway feasibility study.

He was accompanied by Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.

The study cost $5 million.

Pulled together by 120 consultants, it includes 103 reports and 250 spreadsheets.

The report is 2,800 pages long.

It was supposed to consider all aspects of a 1,900-kilometre railway linking the Yukon and Alaska to the south.

The exhaustive study focuses on large-scale resource development and trade.

It forgot passenger service.

“You can tag me with the oversight,” said project manager Kells Boland on Tuesday, during a technical briefing.

“I just never considered it being that big a deal.”

It is.

And Boland is going to use the leftover $30,000 in project money to investigate tourism opportunities.

During his research, Boland looked at an Australian railway, built to stimulate resource development in the country’s remote areas.

“Like us, those areas had been dominated by trucking,” he said.

But what Boland noticed was the tremendous impact of passenger-train tourism.

“People were paying $1,000 a day to go across the desert,” he said.

Small communities without the means to host large groups overnight can benefit from short train stops, he said.

“And I overlooked this.

“I was thinking freight.”

If developed, the Alaska/Yukon railway could end up hauling over 50 million tonnes of freight a year and make almost $1 billion in annual revenues, said Boland.

But even operating at capacity, the railway would still be in the hole after 50 years, he said.

To build a railway linking Fairbanks with Prince Rupert will cost roughly US$11 billion, according to the report.

“And over 50 years, it falls short of paying for itself by 26 per cent,” said Boland.

“Although it does cover its operating costs.”

“Neither Alaska or Yukon have committed to build a railway,” said Fentie during Tuesday’s media briefing.

“The study provides government with the information required to make informed decisions on possible next steps.”

If the railway were to go ahead, the Yukon would need help, said Boland.

“There would have to be a public/private partnership,” he said.

And Alaska would have to be onboard.

Trouble is, Alaska’s government changed while the study was being carried out.

Former governor Frank Murkowski was a big proponent of the railway.

But Palin sings a different tune.

“While the Alaska railroad is an important part of the infrastructure in Alaska, a line to Canada is not a priority project for my administration at this time,” said Palin in a media release in early May.

On Tuesday, the News asked Palin about her commitment to the project.

“Governor Murkowski was real high on the idea of the rail — he wasn’t re-elected though,” she said.

“So with a new team in town we’re starting anew with this project and so many other projects,” said Palin.

“There is no firm timeline on the next steps,” added Fentie.

Rather than build the railway all at once, it could be built in stages, said Boland.

This would help cut costs.

The study foresees the railway running from Fairbanks through Delta Junction to Carmacks.

From there a line runs west to Skagway, and possibly Haines. Another track runs south to Watson Lake, then follows the Cassiar Highway through Dease Lake to Hazelton, where it will link with CP lines that run to Prince Rupert.

Moving from trucks to trains will allow northern mines to reach a higher capacity, said Boland.

“Long trucking distances are not viable when mineral rates drop, but trains allow for low-cost rail access,” he said.

By limiting the number of trucks on the road, train transport would also improve highway safety and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Boland.

The Yukon Port Access strategy was released with the railway study.

It examines the options available for Yukon shipping, focusing largely on Skagway and Haines.

“The Yukon’s only coastline is in the North,” said port project manager Roy Matson.

“And climate change in the North may make an impact on shipping.

“But unfortunately this is not an option yet.”

So, in the short term, the only choice is to use Alaska’s ports, he said.

Skagway’s port is compromised by its tourism industry, which relies heavily on cruise ships.

Haines could handle more volume and store iron ore and coal at its old tank farm, according to the port study.

The railway would link the Yukon directly to Pacific Rim markets via US ports, added Boland.

Fentie and Palin talk caribou

After clearing the railway study off the table, Fentie and Palin talked caribou.

“I invited Alaska to join us in developing a harvest management strategy for the Porcupine caribou herd,” said Fentie.

ANWR was also on the agenda, he said.

“But in protecting their critical habitat we won’t interfere in the purvey of other jurisdictions, just like we don’t want other jurisdictions interfering in our purvey.”

Palin and Fentie also discussed the recovery of the Chisana caribou herd, the Western Hemisphere travel initiative and its effects on tourism and travel, and highway maintenance issues.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Premier Sandy Silver speaks to media after delivering the budget in the legislature in Whitehorse on March 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Territorial budget predicts deficit of $12.7 million, reduced pandemic spending in 2021-2022

If recovery goes well, the territory could end up with a very small surplus.

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Most Read