Skeptics aplenty for proposed oilsands-to-Alaska rail route

A business consortium in the Canadian province of Alberta wants the government there to contribute $10 million to a feasibility study a rail line from the oilsands deposits to the trans-Alaska pipeline at Delta Junction. The idea is to use excess capacity in the pipeline to get Canada's petroleum products on tankers in Valdez and shipped to Asia -- and circumvent environmentalist objections to a pipeline to the British Columbia coast. But skeptics of the rail plan are numerous, including Alaska pipeline officials, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 


Alyeska Pipeline Services Co. officials said they didn’t know much about the plan, which would at least quadruple the volume of oil in the pipeline from Delta to Valdez.

“I’m not aware of any serious discussions, certainly not anything that would rise to the level of infrastructure planning or anything like that,” Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan said.

Egan said such a large project would be a huge challenge for Alyeska.

The Edmonton Journal quotes Canadian transportation experts as saying the statistics the consortium is using to justify the rail link are questionable.

Jean-Francois Arsenault, principal with Ottawa-based transportation strategy firm CPCS Transcom, said shipping 1.5 million barrels from Fort McMurray to Delta Junction on a single track would mean sending 10 trains every day, each pulling 200 cars. Shipping 5 million barrels a day on a double track would mean sending 6,500 rail cars each day.

“That is 33 very, very long trains,” he said. “That’s a train leaving every 45 minutes. While it’s technically feasible, you need to imagine loading 200 freight cars every forty minutes, then unloading them at the other end.

“You would have to have at least three or four loading docks. Is it feasible? Yes. Is anything like this done anywhere else? No. That’s why pipelines exist.”