Measure would create panel to study railroad expansion

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Senate committee approved legislation Wednesday to create a U.S.-Canada Commission to study a railroad connection between Canada and Alaska.

The proposal, made by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-alaska, was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Murkowski said in a news release that Alaska and Canada's Yukon Territory have inadequate transportation systems and that a railroad may be the most environmentally sound way to improve them.

He indicated that changes were made to satisfy committee Democrats. Half the 20-member commission will be appointed by the U.S. president and half by the Canadian government. It must report within three years on the feasibility of connecting railroads at the ''nearest appropriate point.''

The commission would be authorized to spend $6 million of U.S. money. Earlier this year Murkowski succeeded in amending the federal transportation appropriation bill to provide $2 million for the study in the coming fiscal year.

The Canadian government will also be asked to contribute money.

The proposed rail connection would require about 1,150 miles of new track, from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska to either Fort Nelson or Fort St. James in British Columbia, Canada.

Building a rail in Alaska costs between $1 million and $2 million a mile, according to Alaska Railroad estimates. That would put the total project cost at between $1.15 billion and $2.3 billion.

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