A Critical Rail Network
figure 1. The Alaska Railroad
To appreciate what must be done, we can first look at the state of rail, and transportation in general, in the Great North region comprised of Alaska; the Yukon Territory of Canada; and the northern tier of British Columbia, Canada. To say that this area is underdeveloped, is like saying that the Sahara Desert is dry. Figure 1 shows the Alaska Railroad, which was built in 1914-23, by the U.S. government, and has been, since 1985, owned by the Alaska state government. The Alaska Railroad, which extends from Fairbanks to Anchorage, covers 544 miles (876 kilometers), counting spur lines. It is a small, isolated system in the vastness of Alaska’s 663,267 square miles (1,717,855 square kilometers). The map shows that, by rail, there is currently neither a passage to reach Fairbanks from the Lower 48 U.S. states, nor a way to get from that city to the Bering Strait. The Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway, which was built under President Franklin Roosevelt’s direction in 1942, extends from the Lower 48 states to Fairbanks, but goes no further west. To reach the Bering Strait by overland passage, short of using a snowmobile fortified with extra cans of gasoline, one must resort to huskies pulling a dog sled! The Yukon Territory has only a tiny rail line. The North American rail grid that joins Mexico, the United States, and Canada, comes to a dead-end stop at the northern tier of British Columbia. The Arctic North region is underpopulated, and its development frozen in time.
The Alaska-Canada rail connector, with the construction of a development corridor extending 50 miles (80 km) on each side of the railroad, can transform the region in its entirety. Power lines, fiber-optic lines, and where necessary, freshwater pipes would be encased within the corridor. Cities, population, manufacturing, and scientific agriculture would be fertilized and harvested in this corridor as well. The Arctic North’s nearby abundant, but largely untapped, mineral and raw material resources would be made accessible, by rail link, out of the frigid ground for rational use in the Arctic North and the world.
Overcoming a Transportation Dark Age
Figure 2 shows the plan for an Alaska-Canada rail connector system, as developed by co-author Dr. Hal Cooper, a consulting engineer.# This proposed system starts off with two route-branches, each of which heads in a north-south direction. The first branch, called the westerly one, starts at Prince George, British Columbia, and proceeds to Chipmunk, B.C., to Dease Lake, B.C., to Jake’s Corner, Yukon Territory, and then to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The second branch, called the easterly one, starts at Prince George, also. It then heads to Dawson Creek, B.C., to Fort St. John, B.C., to Fort Nelson, B.C., to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, to Jake’s Corner, and then to Whitehorse. Both branches should be built. The two branches join at Jake’s Corner, which is in proximity to the larger Whitehorse. The rail connector line would then extend, as a single route, northward to Beaver Creek in the Yukon Territory, at the Alaska-Canada border, and then to Fairbanks. From there it would proceed to Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, which lies across the Bering Strait from Uelen, Russia. The Bering Strait tunnel would link Cape Prince of Wales to Uelen. Spanning off from this main line, two spur lines would be constructed—the first heading toward Nome, the second toward Red Dog, and then to Point Lay. This second spur would be a critical route, linking existing and projected mines in Alaska to the main line. Red Dog is the site of a massive Alaskan mine, currently the world’s largest producer of zinc; it also produces sizeable amounts of lead and gold. This rail system has two features to be noted. First, Prince George is a location where the North American rail grid nearly comes to an end. Starting in Prince George, the rail routes have been built out to Chipmunk and to Fort Nelson on the westerly and easterly branches, respectively. Both rail sections are owned by the Canadian National Railroad. But some of the rail line to Chipmunk has already been torn up, and both lines would require substantial repair and upgrade as part of the
Alaska-Canada rail connector plan.
Second, by building the Alaska-Canada rail connector, we create the ability to move goods from Russia and China, as well as from Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and Europe, directly to the North American rail grid, and thus to the United States. The westerly branch would extend the system’s reach due south to Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle, Washington; and then to major cities in California. The easterly branch would enable goods to travel either from Fort Nelson to Chicago, or from Dawson Creek to North Dakota, and then to a projected rail corridor to Texas.
An Immense Bill of Materials
Keeping the physical topology, and size of the railroad in mind, we can work up an approximate bill of materials. There are two prerequisite steps in all rail construction, prior to laying a single mile of track. First, a comprehensive engineering survey must be conducted on the path and terrain on which the rail would be built, a process that Cooper and a few others have carried out. Second, the area must be graded, across mountains and low-lying areas. This would require bulldozers and earth-moving equipment, etc. Then building can begin. In assessing a bill of materials, what the industry calls “unit factors,” that is, how many tons of specific goods are needed, per mile of track to be constructed, must be considered. These factors are approximate: In any particular several-mile-stretch of track, one may need more special materials to build on permafrost; one may need more of certain materials for extra strengthening of the track or to build more culverts; or one may need more wood or concrete to build protective walls and sheds, to protect the line from Winter weather.
Table 1 gives the unit factors for building a single mile of railroad track that is double-tracked, and where electric locomotives will be used. “Double-tracking” means that trains can run in each direction at the same time. An electric locomotive uses no diesel fuel, and is powered 100% by electricity supplied by over-head wires. This requires construction of power plants, transmission lines, overhead wires, poles, etc. All of this must be accounted for in the bill of materials. The total length of the Alaska-Canada rail corridor, including spur lines, as displayed in Figure 2, is approximately 3,030 miles. Using four different unit factors, it was possible to determine an approximate bill of materials for four different types of rail line that would be constructed: a single-track diesel-electric-hybrid locomotive; a single-track electric locomotive; a double-track diesel-electric-hybrid locomotive; and a double-track electric locomotive. (On average, the “factor” for a double-track electric locomotive system is roughly double that for a single-track electric locomotive system, although there is some economy of scale.
The same holds for the comparable types of diesel-electric- locomotive systems). Table 2 presents, for construction of each of the four types of system, the approximate tonnage required, by type of commodity. Notice that construction of a double-track electric locomotive system would require a huge bill of materials: more than 10 million tons of iron and steel; nearly 10 million tons of cement, aggregates, etc.; more than 1 million tons of copper, aluminum, and steel wire. Cooper estimates that, at the beginning, because the total tonnage of freight to be carried by each train would be relatively smaller, the the Alaska-Canada rail corridor system may start out as a single-track diesel-electric hybrid locomotive system; but, as the Bering Strait tunnel is built, sending through a greater volume of freight traffic, a double-tracked electric locomotive system would be built. Engineers estimate that it would require 10 to 12 years to build the Bering Strait tunnel. However, with foresight and strong support by the United States government, the Alaska-Canada rail connector could start out as a double-tracked electric locomotive system. It would move as quickly as possible to a maglev system.
An Expansion of Employment
The process of constructing and operating a double-tracked electric locomotive system would generate a significant number of new jobs. It would require 7,500 to 12,800 full-time equivalent jobs to construct the railroad itself, and 1,800 to 2,300 workers to operate and provide maintenance to the railroad, once it is constructed. There is also indirect employment: An additional 15,000 to 25,600 jobs would be created, to produce the steel, cement, copper and aluminum wire, specified in the bill of materials in Table 2. The project would also require engineering and other services. Adding together the direct and indirect jobs, the corridor project would create between 24,300 and 40,700 new jobs, a goodly percentage of them productive. There is more to this process. The Alaska-Canada Railway connector corridor will ultimately employ electrified rail: first high-speed (electric locomotive) rail and then magnetic levitation. This will require huge amounts of electricity, and mandate construction of a series of regional power plants to supply electricity to the railroad operation itself, plus for regional economic and industrial development. The requirement would be, conservatively, 3,000-6,000 megawatts of new installed electricity-generating capacity by 2050. Nuclear power would be the optimal means to supply the power. The bill of materials presented in Table 2 was restricted primarily to the building phase of the railroad, and did not include that power requirement. Table 3 documents the bill of materials to produce a 1,200 MW power plant (construction of four paired 300 MW plants, such as four pebble bed modular reactors, would require roughly the same bill of materials). Now, think of all the workers who would be needed to build the hundreds of pumps, heat exchangers, compressors, reactor vessels, etc., and the inter-mediate goods and raw materials, such as steel (see Marsha Freeman, “The Auto Industry Can Help Build New Nuclear Plants, ” EIR, Dec. 20, 2005). This Alaska-Canada rail corridor would require the manufacture of a new fleet of thousands of electric locomotives, flat cars, hopper cars, and fuel transport cars. This engenders its own bill of materials, and the creation of new jobs. Given the collapsed condition of U.S. rail manufacture, we must immediately reopen and convert a number of closed auto factories, to produce rail capital goods. Laid-off skilled auto workers would be rehired. In sum, adding up all the jobs cited above, the Alaska-Canada rail corridor would generate a new workforce of 35,000-50,000 workers, in largely productive jobs. But this is just the first phase.
The Alaska-Canada railroad corridor, contemporaneous with the construction of a rail corridor from the Baikal Amur Mainline to Uelen, Russia—both leading vectors of the Bering Strait project—would bring about a profound and enduring change in the world economy. This would generate a second, much larger phase of jobs.
The Bering Strait rail and tunnel project’s path is fast, both because it utilizes revolutionary high-speed/maglev technology, and because it operates along a least-action, geodesic Arctic Circle route. The shortest distance and fastest passage for goods from Beijing to Chicago is along this proposed route. Were the current mode of transport to be used to ship a product from Beijing to Chicago, it would go by train from Beijing to a Chinese port, broken down, and placed on a ship travelling at a much slower speed across the Pacific Ocean; be offloaded at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach, and placed upon a train for shipment to Chicago. That process takes up to three weeks. By the Bering Strait route, it would stay on high- speed train the whole way, travel along a much shorter route, and take 7 to 10 days.
A primary function of the Bering Strait rail system is to unlock of the vast treasure-house of varied elements of the Periodic Table trapped underneath the tundra and permafrost of the Arctic North, which consists of Russia’s Far East, Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and the northern two-thirds of British Columbia. These mineral resources can be used for world economic development. The rail project, as part of what will become the World Land-Bridge, would also build development corridors in underdeveloped regions of the world, including the Arctic North.
The case of Russia in this setting is developed by Rachel Douglas in “Russia: Contours of an Economic Policy to Save the Nation,” EIR, Sept. 7, 2007), so we will focus on the other regions of the Arctic North. The case of Alaska illustrates how the development of resources can contribute to igniting overall development. Alaska has almost no manufacturing: not a single steel plant, and only a few small machine-tool shops; it imports most of its industrial goods from the Lower 48 states or Asia. Sitting on a submerged mountain of raw materials, it has but seven mines of any significance in operation. Yet, according to independent geologists and the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska has a teeming resource base of iron ore, zinc, lead, copper, molybdenum, uranium, titanium, chromite, nickel, gold, platinum, and coal. (Russia’s Far East province has an equal or even greater supply of these and other raw materials.) A mining engineer told EIR, “Some financial people tell you that transportation has nothing to do with developing a mine, but they are totally wrong. If you don’t have transportation, you can’t ship the goods anywhere.” According to a study by University of Alaska at Fairbanks mining and geological engineer Dr. Paul Metz, Alaska has more than 500 “mineral occurrences”—sites where deposits of specific minerals have been identified—which fall within 60 miles on either side of the center line of the proposed Alaska- Canada rail connector. With rail, he indicated, several of these occurrences, perhaps dozens if they are rich enough, would become operating mines. The development of mines calls for capital equipment and other supplies, but that is just the first step. Many in Alaska want to develop a manufacturing base. There are already plans to construct a petroleum refining facility outside the city of Fairbanks, Alaska’s largest, not only for producing refined product, but also for feedstock. There is also discussion of building metal-ore-processing and -refining plants, such as for zinc and copper, and of building initially one steel plant that would utilize iron ore from Alaska and neighboring Yukon Territory. These plans require railroads to transport the goods. The Alaska-Canada rail connector, with 50 miles on either side, would be a development corridor within which new cities would be built and existing small cities would grow, following the general trajectory of the 19th-Century Transcontinental Railroad in the United States. Right now, three-quarters of Alaska’s small population (670,000 people) is concentrated in just two areas: the metropolitan areas around Fairbanks and Anchorage, in the southern part of the state. The rest of the state is virtually empty. As cities spring up or enlarge, they will build manufacturing establishments, and require con- struction of school systems, electricity grids, water systems, health and hospital systems; this will of course require an expansion of the workforce. For the short-term future, Alaska would import a host of advanced goods, in particular machine tools, principally from the Lower 48 states. Thus, as a second phase, over the next 20 to 25 years, this self-feeding process would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, most of them in Alaska and the continental United States, many of them productive.
Alaska’s population density of a mere 1.0 person per square mile (0.4 persons per square kilometer) is a measure of pitiful underdevelopment. Table 4 shows the population densities for some regions, illustrating the underdevelopment of the Arctic North. The construction of the Alaska- Canada rail connector corridor will foster an increase in potential relative population density: that areas once thought to be barren—such as vast areas of snow and permafrost—will become fecund, through scientific agriculture (including the hot-house production of food), the technological- and capital-intensiveness of manufacturing, and the productive powers of labor. Through creativity, man will increase his productive power over the universe, per capita, and per square kilometer. At a higher level, the movement of goods between Eurasia and the Americas, at previously unheard-of speeds, will transform world productive relations. It will cohere with an emerging isotope economy, and generate tens of millions of productive jobs in the United States, and hundreds of millions worldwide. The regeneration of the world economy, which would be achieved through U.S.-Russian collaboration, would shift the relations between the two nations to a positive, war-avoidance footing. The forceful implementation of Lyndon LaRouche’s New Bretton Woods monetary system, as the present financial system blows to pieces, creates the unique historical moment to bring the Bering Strait project into existence.