2004 News Archive
(January - March)
Link Alaska, Canada railroads for security - 3/17/04
By Senator John Cowdery

It's an obscure note in history: had any federal funds been left over from construction of the Panama Canal, they were to be assigned to Alaska railroad construction. There were no funds left over, but the way I see it, there is a growing linkage between the Panama Canal and a rail connection between Alaska and the North American rail system.

The Panama Canal is becoming obsolete. A rail connection would bring the latest technology to a long-established transportation corridor that lacks only the infrastructure of a railroad fully able to carry containerized freight. Bringing all this into sharp focus is the current war on terrorism.

A recent report from Aegis Defense Services Ltd. on security in maritime transport brings starkly to light the wide range of opportunities for terrorists to utilize oceangoing vessels and containerized freight for delivering weapons or terrorists themselves.

I've read the report, and it's sobering.

In addition, foreign ownership of the Panama Canal -- which needs billions of dollars in renovation and upgrades in order to handle the newest generation of tankers and cargo vessels -- does not add assurance to our nation's economic well-being in a post 9/11 era.

The Aegis report expresses the concern that the next major terrorist attack could come by ship -- by LNG tanker, by bulk carrier, container ship or so-called tramp freighter. It's not hard to see why this conclusion is drawn: the true owners of many freighters are difficult to determine, piracy is rampant in parts of Southeast Asia, and few shipping containers are individually inspected in American ports.

A freighter carrying ammonium nitrate, the type of fertilizer that was used in the Oklahoma City attack, could be detonated using a simple GPS-triggered device, closing the Panama Canal.

In 1947, a freighter carrying ammonium nitrate exploded in Galveston Bay, killing around 600 while destroying the entire port and the nearby town of Texas City.

An event of similar or even less destructive force would close the Panama Canal for weeks if not months. Besides exerting terror and loss of life, terrorist organizations can cripple entire economies with such an attack. The Aegis report makes the point that a 10-day strike along the West Coast last year caused our nation billions in lost trade and revenue.

I, and the Murkowski administration, are very optimistic about recent developments involving Alaskan natural gas and its transport to market -- both instate and outside Alaska.

These two factors underscore the importance of completing the last transcontinental railroad -- in other words, connecting the Alaska Railroad with the Canadian National Railroad in British Columbia. The economic values of such a rail connection are numerous, from lowering the cost of building pipelines to opening new opportunities in winter tourism.

But I think there is an added component -- national security.

Given the world's political climate, our nation desperately needs an alternative to the Panama Canal, and a railroad connecting the Alaska ports of Seward, Whittier and Anchorage with the North American rail system could be part of that alternative.

A rail connection to the Lower 48 would be far more secure for no other reason than it will run far from areas targeted by terrorists. Railroads bring controlled access, and their very nature limits the amount of damage of even a well-planned attack.

There's a second factor in terms of national security: military access. A completed rail connection will allow the military a way to efficiently access our state through the heartland of North America.

The Aegis Report identified a dozen sea lane "choke points" where the highest danger of terrorist attack exists. Of the world's dozen or so major shipping lanes, two connect with Alaska. Just two choke points exist in the Western Hemisphere: the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan.

Add an Alaska rail connection, and there are no choke points between Asia's Pacific ports, Alaska, the East Coast and Western Europe. When the first transcontinental railroad was completed, a major portion of its revenue came from trans-shipping freight from Asia to Europe, because it saved time and losses from shipwrecks at the tip of South America.

Today's modern freighters have less to fear from inclement weather, but as much to fear from piracy and terrorism as did their 19th century forebears. A railroad from Alaska into British Columbia may be built on old technology -- but the political and economic issues it will solve are very much in the 21st century.

Sen. John Cowdery is an Anchorage Republican.

Motor vehicle accident - 3/4/04
From the Alaska State Trooper website


Alaska Railroad looking for locomotive engineers - 2/24/04
Alaska Railroad Web site
Here is an excerpt from an employment listing on the Alaska Railroad web site: "Approximately 12 positions to fill as a Locomotive Engineer/Conductor Trainee - The majority of new train service employees typically work on an "extra board" for the first several years of employment, dependant on seniority. (Regular assigned jobs are available but are usually occupied by senior employees). Extra Board positions have no structured days off or predictability as to when a call to work will be received. Employees in these positions must be available for a call to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unless in a mandatory rest period following a working assignment."
Seward may get veneer facility - 2/16/04
Alaska Journal of Commerce
By Tim Bradner

Steve Brady inspects Wasilla-area spruce logs too small for lumber which could be made into high-value laminated veneer. Seward businessman Dale Lindsey and Huskywood LLC, an Alaska forest products consulting firm, are working with an unidentified major Canadian forest products company on a possible $60 million project to build a laminated veneer lumber mill in Seward.

[See story]

Railroad expands on ski train idea to draw summer riders - 2/14/04
Kenai Peninsula Online

When people consider taking a trip on the Alaska Railroad, chances are they envision a relaxing but sedentary experience: Settling back into a comfortable seat, gazing at spectacular scenery through big windows, maybe napping a bit or reading a book.

Unless it's the ski train.

Then you explore a remote part of Alaska's backcountry on skis, snowshoes or by snowboard, socialize with other passengers and perhaps even dance to a rollicking polka band on the way home in a hot, crowded rail car.

[See story]

City Council backs railroad extension bill - 2/8/04
Fairbanks News-Miner
By Dan Rice

The North Pole, Alaska City Council reiterated its formal support Monday for a legislative effort aimed at extending the Alaska Railroad to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Council members voted unanimously for a resolution in support of state Senate Bill 31, which would allow the Alaska Railroad Corp. to establish a transportation corridor to extend the railroad.

The resolution, which was sponsored by Mayor Jeff Jacobson and Councilman Doug Isaacson, amounts to a nonbinding, formal show of support for the bill.

The council passed a similar resolution in February 2002 in support of a state House bill that authorized the corporation to establish a utility corridor for the railroad extension.

Jacobson said that the railroad extension would bring an economic benefit for North.

"I think we're moving pretty close to having the railroad extended to the border and then having Canada step up and connect it to the North American transportation system," Jacobson said.

Alaska-Canada railroad awaiting resolution - 2/7/04

The planned Alaska-Canada railroad, sometimes called "the last transcontinental railroad," may see some positive developments in the near future.

Senate Bill 31, which would provide the means to investigate the feasibility of an Alaska-Canada railroad, had a hearing in the Alaska State Legislature Jan. 29. Alaska Senator Gary Wilken decided to hold the bill until further action on the federal scene could be completed.

The Legislature also held a hearing to expedite Alaska-Canadian relations two weeks ago in Juneau. At this meeting, at which Governor Murkowski as well as numerous Canadian officers were present, Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie remarked that the Alaska-Canada railroad issue has been moved to the top of his list of priorities.

Although Senate Bill 31 does not provide for any planned construction, it does provide the mechanism for establishing a portion of land on which to build the railroad. According to the bill, should construction of the railroad proceed, a corridor of state land no more than 500 feet wide would be given to the railroad corporation free of charge.

Roughly 130 people also attended a recent conference on the proposed railroad in Anchorage. At the meeting, which was intended to raise support and awareness of the project, statements from Alaskan and Canadian officials were considered. Though the proposed railroad has a considerable amount of public support behind it, progress is slow due to federal legal hang-ups.

"We can't proceed with the project until the Canadians decide to go forward with it," said Wendy Lisndskoog for the Alaska Railroad Corporation's planning department. "This needs to be a bilateral decision."

Though plans for an Alaska-Canada Railroad have been in the works for years, the project has been slow in developing, a fact due in part to a logjam in the Canadian government. Although Alaskan politicians believe that the Canadian government is in favor of the railroad, there has been no expenditure of Canadian funds on the project and the case is being handled by the notoriously slow-moving Canadian Foreign Affairs Office. Canadian politicians are currently attempting to delegate the handling of the bill to the Department of Transportation, which could make a decision much more quickly.

Until that decision is made, the project will have to remain on hold. Constructing a 1,200-mile rail -- the length considered by a February 2002 cost estimate -- would call for an excess of one million tons of steel, and would cost roughly $2.7 billion.

About 980 miles separate the end of the Alaska Railroad near Eielson Air Force Base with the northern limits of the British Columbia Railroad at Fort Nelson. The British Columbia Railroad, once intended to capitalize upon deposits of tungsten and other minerals in western Canada, has been left largely unused due to a change in the Canadian government. The cost of building the railroad would thus be greatly reduced owing to the quantity of track already in place.

Planning maps of the project have the proposed railroad running south-east of Fairbanks, past Tok, and into Canada.

Possible uses for the Alaska-Canada railroad include transportation of Alaska freight such as minerals, timber and oil, as well as moving tourists and visitors up from the Lower 48.

Another rather unconventional use of the railroad would be the transportation of imported goods from Japan and East Asia to the Lower 48.

Since the ports at Anchorage and Whittier are considerably nearer to Asian export centers than ports in California, it might be feasible to transport cargo from Asia to Southcentral Alaska by boat, then move the goods by rail to the rest of the states. This was also a function performed by the transcontinental Pacific-Atlantic railroad constructed in 1861.

Currently, Alaska exports its oil by tanker and its fish, timber and other resources by air or barge. A railroad to the Lower 48 could make export by land a feasible option.

The most direct, quantifiable benefit afforded by the railroad would be its cutting of the costs involved in building the proposed Alaska-Canada natural gas pipeline. If a pipeline is constructed on Canadian land, an Alaska-Canada railroad would reduce building costs by 20 percent.

PM engineers support for railway study - 2/3/04
Whitehorse Star
By Jason Small

The prime minister is planning to give the thumbs-up to studying the possibility of a northern railway.

Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie met privately with new Prime Minister Paul Martin late last week in Ottawa.

The premier was fresh off a recent conference in Juneau, where proponents, including Fentie, talked about studying the idea of a railway through Alaska

[See story]

Railroad spurns scholarship bill - 1/28/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

An Anchorage senator's proposal to create a system of railroad-oriented scholarships met with objections Tuesday from a surprising source--the Alaska Railroad.

The bill, introduced by Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chairman John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, would require the railroad to produce $1.2 million for a "Workforce Development Scholarship Program" to fund scholarships in railroad-related trades at Alaska colleges.

[See story]

Announcement on gas line expected - 1/22/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Gov. Frank Murkowski will be in Fairbanks today to make what has been touted as an important announcement about an Alaska natural gas pipeline.

"It is going to be a major announcement," said Murkowski spokesman John Manly. "This'll be the big deal of the year."

Murkowski will first fly to Fort Greely today to take part in a ceremony activating a new National Guard unit assigned to the missile defense system, according to Manly.

[See story]

Governor Receives Application to Build Gas Pipeline - 1/22/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 22, 2003 No. 04-011

(Fairbanks) – A consortium of gas pipeline operating companies and Alaska Native corporations have delivered an application to the state pursuant to the Stranded Gas Act to build a gas pipeline to deliver North Slope natural gas to markets in the mid-West.

Governor Frank H. Murkowski made the announcement at a press conference in Fairbanks this afternoon. He was joined at the press conference by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company Chairman and CEO, David Sokol, Pacific Star Energy President and CEO Ken Thompson, and Cook Inlet Region Incorporated President and CEO Carl Marrs, among others.

“It has long been Alaska’s dream to see commercialization of our vast gas reserves, believed to be well over 100 trillion cubic feet,” Murkowski said. “My administration has been working very hard over the past several months to move the gas pipeline project along. Today, I am happy to announce that a very big step is being taken toward making this dream a reality. The application we have received today is from a group of prominent industry partners, including MidAmerican Energy Holding Company, Pacific Star Energy, and CIRI. These companies have a level of financial vitality, pipeline expertise, consumer market base, and Alaska business association that is far beyond anything we have seen to date.”

MidAmerican is a privately-held company of which Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway Corporation are the major owners. It operates more than 18,000 miles of gas pipelines, 89,000 miles of electrical transmission and distribution lines, and electric generation facilities producing more than 10,000 megawatts of power. The company serves a consumer base of more than 5 million customers.

Pacific Star Energy is a consortium that includes 12 of the 13 ANCSA Native corporations. It also presents an opportunity for ordinary Alaskans to invest in the pipeline project.
Now that an application has been received under the Stranded Gas Act, Murkowski said the next step will be to negotiate a draft contract with the MidAmerican-led group. Once negotiations are complete, the contract will be submitted to the Legislature for its approval

Decision on railroad depot due soon - 1/19/04
Anchorage Daily News
The Associated Press

The Alaska Railroad Corp. plans to announce soon whether construction of a new Fairbanks depot will begin this year, railroad board chairman John Binkley said.

Binkley said he's optimistic the company will find the money to finish the depot on schedule.

About $6 million of preparation work for the depot and a new loop track project -- originally estimated to cost a total of $22.5 million -- is already completed.

[See story]

Rail talk picks up steam - 1/16/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The construction of a natural gas pipeline--along with political developments in both the United States and Canada--could help spur an extension of the Alaska Railroad to the Lower 48, according to Gov. Frank Murkowski and the other speakers at a Thursday railroad conference in Juneau.

"It's an extraordinary opportunity for both our governments," Murkowski told assembled officials from both countries. "It's a rare opportunity to do things right."

[See story]

Alaskan, Canadian officials discuss possible rail link - 1/16/04
By Gianna Trinca

There was more talk Thursday about the idea of connecting Alaska and Canada through rail. At an all-day conference, Canadian and Alaskan transportation officials discussed what's being called "the last transcontinental railroad."

A feasibility study is underway to connect the countries. Currently, about 1,000 miles separate the Alaska Railroad from the British Columbia railway system.

[See story]

Pipeline deal could pay for railroad fixes - 1/13/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
The Associated Press

The Alaska Railroad Corp. says it would need to upgrade its track and traffic capacity to handle the heavy load of a natural gas pipeline construction project.

But a spokesman says the railroad could help pay for upgrades by charging a fee to project developers in exchange for use of the railroad corporation's tax-exempt bonding status to finance the pipeline.

The fee could be worth tens of millions of dollars if project sponsors are able to use the railroad to issue billions of dollars of bonds for the proposed project, estimated to cost up to $20 billion.

[See story]

Depot decision due soon - 1/10/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
By Kyle Hopkins

For the second time, the bids of contractors vying to build a new Fairbanks railroad depot exceeded what the Alaska Railroad Corp. wants to pay.

Still, this round of bids is better than the last, officials said, and railroad board chairman John Binkley is optimistic the company will find the money to finish the depot on schedule.

[See story]

Avalanche blocks return of tourism train - 1/10/04
Anchorage Daily News

A train packed with skiers, a Florida film crew and a polka band was forced to retreat to Portage on Friday afternoon after getting stuck behind an avalanche while returning to Anchorage from Spencer Glacier, about 10 miles south of Portage.

Alaska Railroad officials said about 175 people were on board the train, which was making a special promotional trek to the glacier for a day of skiing. The trip was arranged for the film crew, which was hired by the Alaska Travel Industry Association to shoot footage for a video.

[See story]

New dome cars - 1/8/04
Submitted anonymously

The Board of Directors, at its last meeting, approved the acquisition of two each, bi-level, full dome cars. These will be for custom class, extra fare service, in the Denali Star. They will be located at the head end of the consist, just behind the baggage car, so that there is an unobstructed view forward. Target seating in the dome is 72 people. Every passenger will have a dome seat. Below will be a full width kitchen capable of serving the lower level dining room of approximately 36 seats and an attached, high ceiling table car of approximately 64 seats (which the railroad already owns). Cars are to be 89 feet long from pulling face to pulling face and about 18 feet tall above top of rail.

The request for proposal will be on the street this month and the requested delivery date is April 2005.

Train derails near Wasilla; traffic tied up for an hour - 1/7/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Staff report

Construction of a new overpass to avoid a railroad crossing at the intersection of the Parks and Glenn highways near Wasilla led to a train derailment that backed up traffic for more than an hour.

An Alaska Railroad spokesman said sand from the construction of the Glenn-Parks Interchange, which won't be complete for some time, fell on the tracks and became impacted. An engine on a fuel train traveling south hit the impacted sand and the first set of wheels jumped the rail.

[See story]

Freight train derailment- 1/6/04
Submitted by Robert Krol
Channel 2 News has breaking news. An Alaska Railroad freight has derailed at the Parks and Glenn Highways. I would say it is at the big road crossing there at the Wasilla and Palmer Wye. Hopefully there will be more at 10pm.
Public gets chance to weigh in on projects at Friday meeting - 1/6/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
By Kyle Hopkins

With several projects that could change Interior traffic, cargo transportation and tourism in the works, the Alaska Railroad will hold a public meeting 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Fairbanks railroad depot to discuss its 2004 construction plans.

The local meeting follows similar gatherings in Anchorage, Wasilla and Seward earlier in the week. It will focus on ongoing projects like expanding a depot in Denali National Park, as well as longterm goals such as major changes to the railroad's footprint in the Interior.

[See story]

Alaska Railroad releases 2003 print - 1/3/04
By Jeffrey Hope

The annual railroad print has been released.

Every year the Alaska Railroad commissions an artist to produce a railroad-related painting. This year Anchorage artist James Havens' painting "Turnagain Tides" was selected. It depicts two killer whales in Turnagain Arm with a southbound Whittier train in the background.

[See story]



Page created 1/1/04 and last updated 4/1/04