August 6: Voice of The (Anchorage) Times on an Alaska-Canada rail link:

Posted: Monday, August 07, 2000

A proposal to build a rail link between Canada and Alaska, as approved by a Senate committee last week, is not new. The idea has been around a long time -- for decades, in fact. But the plans have gone nowhere.

That, too, may be the fate of Sen. Frank Murkowski's latest bill to create a U.S.-Canada commission to study a rail link between Eielson Air Force Base at Fairbanks and either Fort Nelson or Fort St. James in British Columbia. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave it the go-ahead, and that's a new start, at least.

It would be good if it moves ahead through the Senate and eventually the House and into law.

As a matter of fact, it would be good if a lot of other major transportation ideas for Alaska would get serious consideration and, ultimately, action to make them a reality.

The truth is that Alaska's surface transportation system is stagnant, and the state is paying the price. There are fewer road and rail links here than there are in any other state in the nation.

The environmentalists, who want to lock up Alaska and turn it into a vast national park and zoo, are happy as can be.

But they don't live here. They don't have families here that need economic opportunities to survive. They don't have children growing up here who need to have the hope for jobs and income. They don't have children leaving for other states, many never to return home.

Real Alaskans need access to the country, however.

In the old days, before Alaska became every Outside politician's happy playground, legislators -- without a whole lot of money to spend -- used to proudly and eagerly appropriate dollars for the building of what were called pioneer roads. They weren't much by today's highway standards -- gravel roads, mostly. But they punched through the wilderness and made it possible for people to get back into the country to build homes, to get a few acres of land, to reach for the future.

That's when Alaska sang and soared, when dreams were possible, when people reached for statehood and believed it would be a doorway to a bright future.

We don't build roads now. We improve what we have. We repave and reroute. We widen and smooth. But build new roads to somewhere? No way. The environmentalist will take you to court over that.

Well, maybe this new bill by Murkowski will get Alaskans thinking again -- remembering that the railroad's original purpose was to open the country, and that there is a lot of country still to be reached.

To Canada, to be sure. And westward, too, across the Interior. One day, we venture to say, the Native corporations will realize what a rail link could do for them.

And maybe then we'll all say go for it.

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