‹ Infrastructure

Railway fever in the north

November 22, 2012

A group called Generating for Seven Generations has suggested a $10 B railway be built from Ft.McMurray, Alberta to Valdez, Alaska to carry oil from the oil sands to tidewater. 

The article by Diane Francis of the National Post states “A group of Canadian businessmen has obtained the blessing of Alaskan tribes and Canadian First Nations to build a railroad through their lands that could carry up to five million barrels per day from the oil sands to the super tanker port in Valdez, Alaska.” The proposal is to build a 2,400-kilometre railway.

The railway with a single track would cost about $8.4-billion and carry 1.5 million barrels per day. A twin-tracked railway would cost $10.4-billion and transport up to five million barrels daily.

By contrast, Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat on the B.C. coast would cost $5.5-billion and ship up to 525,000 barrels per day; and the Kinder Morgan proposal to Vancouver would cost $4.1-billion and add 300,000 barrels a day to its existing pipeline. Both pipeline proposals through BC are controversial and have attracted political fire from environmentalists, some First Nations and communities. In a related development the Obama administration has yet to approve construction of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline (from Nebraska to Texas).

Canada right now is at maximum capacity on its oil exports. It cannot export more oil, its number one export product, even if it wanted to due to lack of capacity. The situation will not be relieved until the end of 2013 at the earliest.

The G7G group has already approached First Nations and governments along the route and sought their tentative approval. G7G is seeking financial support for a feasibility study from industry, investors, B.C., Alberta and Ottawa. Reception has been ‘cool’, not surprising given the existence of powerful vested interests that support current pipeline proposals, such as China, banks and certain oil patch players.

Meanwhile, planning for a railway on Baffin Island continues. The Mary River iron ore mine will require construction of a $1.1 B railway across Baffin Island. Material from the Mary River bulk stockpile will be reclaimed and loaded onto trains for shipment via train along a 150km railroad to the port facility. The Mary River stockpile contains a mixture of fines and lump ore. Material will be stacked and reclaimed from this pile by a rail mounted stacker/reclaimer that can be operated from the rail loadout building. Four train sets each pulling between 110 and 180 cars, each weighing between 94 and 104 tonnes, will be used to transport the ore to Steensby Port. The Mary River project received environmental approval by the Nunavut Impact Review Board earlier this year. Construction could begin as early as 2013.



At first blush the idea of a rail link from Ft.McMurray to Alaska raises some questions:

This concept is bold, but it does not pass muster.