The Yukon-Alaska Rail Line was Planned by FDR
June 20, 2007 (LPAC) -- As plans proceed for the extended Bering Strait tunnel and rail system, it is worth noting that sixty-five years ago, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (AEC) to conduct a topological survey and preliminary feasibility study on the construction of a rail line that would run from the northern tier of British Columbia through the Yukon Territory of Canada, to Fairbanks, Alaska. The report was released October 12, 1942, entitled, "Report on Survey: Trans-Canadia Alaska Railway Location."
The Army Corps carried out an audacious study that planned to build the 1,416 mile (2,280 km) railroad, including bridges, etc. in 400 days, that is, less than 14 months. The report contains the components for a functioning railroad, basically for military purposes during the Pacific campaign of World War II. That line was never built. The plan serves as a model for today - the single proviso is that for the line to handle heavy freight at high speeds, it would have to be constructed to higher standards.
The projected rail line has the advantage of a topology whose grade does not exceed 2%. However, as the ACE saw it, it confronted major challenges. To cross rivers, depressions, etc., the proposed line would require constructing 72 bridges, with spans varying from 56 feet to 400 feet; 73,000 linear feet of trestles: 5,700 culverts; 1,520 miles of track, which would require clearing 30,000 acres of land. It was calculated that this would require laying 177,211 tons of steel/iron rails and fittings.
But that is just one phase: to execute the building of the rail line at the work site, and/or to transport goods to it, would necessitate a bill of materials: 166 bulldozers, 97 tractors without dozers, 40 Caterpillar-mounted power shovels, 34 compressors, 27 pile drivers, 108 dump cars, 22 boats and 40 barges, and so on. Meanwhile, to make this happen, there would have to be the construction of 12 locomotive shops, 15 engine sheds, 144 tool sheds, 13 saw mills, etc.
The ACE report determined that there would be 17,000 jobs created at the work sites, but left unsaid that there would be tens of thousands of jobs created in the industries that would physically supply goods to the project.
Sixty five years later, with this solid foundation, there is every reason that the ACE plan, commissioned by President Roosevelt, should be implemented.