Expanding Alaska rail lines: new routes add more than 100 miles, cost $1 billion-plus.

Author:Orr, Vanessa
Position:TRANSPORTATION: SPECIAL SECTION
 
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When the Alaska Railroad was first established in 1904 as a private rail line stretching just a few miles north of Seward, few people could imagine that it would someday play such an important role in the development of the Last Frontier. Today, the railroad carries more than 500,000 passengers annually, and more than 6 million tons of freight to destinations ranging from the Gulf of Alaska to villages within the Interior.

In 2010, the railroad will expand its reach even more. With roughly $43.1 million budgeted for capital projects, the Alaska Railroad Corp. continues to improve infrastructure while also expanding routes as a way to aid in the economic development goals of the state. These new routes, which include the Northern Rail Extension to Delta Junction and the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension, will not only help to stimulate business within those areas, but might also open the door to expanded routes in the future, including, perhaps, a railway to Canada.

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NORTHERN EXTENSION

On Jan. 5, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) granted the Alaska Railroad Corp. the authority to construct and operate a new rail line in the area between North Pole and Delta Junction. The project, which will involve approximately 80 miles of new rail line, will connect the existing Eielson Branch rail line at the Chena River Overflow Structure to a point near Delta Junction.

"This project is quite an undertaking." said Brian Lindamood, project manager, special projects, Alaska Railroad. "It will take place in four phases, and cost somewhere between $600 million and $800 million." The railroad is currently working on preparing final design and permit applications for regulatory agencies.

Phase one, the Tanana Access Project, will consist of building a bridge over the Tanana River near Salcha. The second phase will connect the railroad from Moose Creek near North Pole to the Salcha crossing, which is roughly 13 or 14 miles. Phase three will consist of rail construction from the Salcha crossing to the Donnelly Military Training Area, and phase four will connect Donnelly to Delta Junction, with the last two phases equaling approximately 60 miles.

"The bridge will take the longest time to build; the tracks to the bridge won't be as complicated," said Lindamood. "We have to start at the bridge in order to have it in place for the rest of the project."

According to Alaska Railroad Corp. Corporate Affairs Vice President Wendy Lindskoog, this...

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