A map from the A2A Rail website outlining the proposed train route endorsed by U.S. President Donald Trump between Alaska and Fort McMurray, Alta., that would run through several Yukon communities. (A2A Rail website)

Trump tweets support for railway concept connecting Alaska and Alberta

Too early to properly evaluate the project ahead of an environmental assessment, Yukon minister says

U.S. President Donald Trump said he plans to issue a presidential permit for A2A (Alaska 2 Alberta) Rail, a proposal to build a railway between Alaska and Fort McMurray, Alta., that would run through several Yukon communities.

Trump made the announcement on Twitter on Sept. 25, offering his “congratulations to the people of Alaska & Canada.”

The current proposed route is based on a 2013 study by the Van Horne Institute.

The 2,570-kilometre rail track railroad would travel close to Pelly Crossing, Carmacks, Faro, Ross River and Watson Lake, but bypass Whitehorse.

The Van Horne study examined how useful the railway would be to transport bitumen from land-locked Alberta to international markets via Alaska. The study also took into account mineral deposits along the route, including copper, gold, coal and iron ore and the potential to transport container goods.

The total cost of the project is estimated at around $22 billion in Canadian funds, according to A2A.

In July the company announced detailed land surveying would take place along the Alberta segment of the railway’s proposed route.

“The start of surveying activities means that we are now officially ‘boots on the ground’ here in Alberta. Combining that with our progress on completing our feasibility study, it is safe to say that A2A Rail has advanced well beyond the early idea first investigated by the Van Horne institute,” said founder Sean McCoshen at the time.

“The new rail line will create new economic development opportunities for a wide range of businesses, communities and Indigenous communities in Canada and Alaska,” he said.

A presidential permit is the first step in the U.S. regulatory process for the project.

From there, proponents would still be required to begin regulatory approvals in the United States and undergo an extensive environmental impact assessment under Canadian legislation.

The company has also committed to working with Indigenous groups in both countries along the proposed route, with opportunities for equity in the project.

While the business owners have had meetings with Canadian officials, any concrete approvals on this side of the border would be years away.

Alberta premier Jason Kenney has publicly supported the proposal.

Yukon Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said the territorial government has offered to help facilitate contact with First Nations and environmental assessment procedures, but said the project is at too early of a phase to properly evaluate.

“We’ve tried to make sure that we’re here to provide the appropriate information but of course, this is really early in a very significant process,” he said.

“I think the organization has some pretty significant leadership there, they’ve gone out to some of the best firms in the world to put this plan together. They’ve identified a number of things that look positive for the Yukon, and Canada, and First Nations governments based on what they said they want to do. But really, until we see a submission to the environmental assessment processor, that will really give us an understanding of what the project is, I’m holding off on comments against the project, or for it, until I actually see what the project is … and what communities think about it,” Pillai said.

Last year Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston told the News he met with A2A but predicted that the environmental aspects of the project will make it infeasible.

“A dollar is important, but the protection of our environment is probably worth three times as much as that dollar,” he said at the time, with a note on how permafrost and climate change would influence a massive northern rail project.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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