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The Trans-Canadian Alaska Railway

Rails to Riches: Historic Railways of Alaska & the Yukon

    On February 6, 1942, the U.S. Army's Chief of Staff revealed a plan to construct a military supply route to Alaska, and 5 days later, the Alaska Military Highway project received Presidential approval (see the Alaska Highway Chronology at ExploreNorth for more information). Some people were apparently not convinced that a road was the right decision, however, and from May 3rd to May 12th, the initial aerial reconnaissance of possible routes of what was called the Trans-Canadian Alaska Railway was conducted.

    It was initially proposed that the Trans-Canadian Alaska Railway would use the existing Pacific Great Eastern Railway line to Quesnel, then rebuild the abandoned PGE line from there to Prince George. From Prince George, the route would go north to Summit Lake, then up the Crooked, Parsnip, and Finlay Rivers to Sifton Pass. The Kechika River would then be followed, and a couple of possible routes were available to reach Lower Post. The railway would then follow an existing road to Watson Lake and continue west on the route of what is now the Robert Campbell Highway, crossing the Yukon River where it narrows at Five Finger Rapids. The Yukon River would then be followed to the mouth of the White River, then up the White to the mouth of the Ladue River, up the Ladue River valley to the divide, then cross to the Tanana River and follow it to Fairbanks.

Letter from Jas. Truitt, Lt. Colonel, Corps of Engineers, May 15, 1942 describing an aerial reconnaissance of the route (pdf, 9 pages, 90 Kb)

    The Whitehorse Star of Friday, July 31st, 1942, carried the following article on the front page:


    Survey parties have arrived in the Territory ostensibly for the purposes of mapping out a feasible route for the proposed United States - Alaska railroad.
    In a recent issue of "Science" (April 17th) which is the official organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (an organization which occupies a similar position in the cultural life of the U. S. A. as the British Association does in England) some reasons are set forth in support of the carrying out of such a project. These reasons may be briefly summarized as follows: The railroad could be constructed almost as quickly as the highway. It would need practically no rubber (prime strategic material of the war), whereas the highway would be only useful with a major expenditure of this precious material for truck tires. Lying idle in the U. S. A. are enough good second-hand rails with which to build the whole route. The ties would come right out of the forest along or near the route. Experience, of rough-and-ready railroad engineers shows that low-speed freight service can be maintained over track laid with little ballast even over unstable ground such as would be encountered along part of the route. Just as in the case of older railroads there would be crews of trackmen continually re-building the road but this probably would be little more than would be needed on a freight highway. One freight train would carry many times the burden of a whole convoy of trucks. The fuel for the locomotives would be obtainable from Alaskan and other coal mines whereas the gasoline for trucks would have to be hauled in tanks from the south. With red tape hacked away it is contended that the two bands of steel could be started within a matter of a few days. Without burdening the army with the task, an engineering staff could be swiftly organized, experienced trackmen requisitioned from the railroads and C. C. C. lads put to work on the job.
    Mr. Watson Davis concludes his article with the words "In the minds of the engineers the sound of sledge on spike is heard already hammering a new road to victory - if railroading has a chance at building this essential link.

Report on Survey of Trans-Canadian Alaska Railway Location, October 12, 1942 (pdf, 35 pages, 479 Kb). This report estimated the total cost to be $111,859,000 with 400 days of active construction time.

    In February 1943, the final report was issued. It estimated a cost of over $235 million, and was never approved. The Trans-Canadian Alaska Railway dream was dead, but to this day, other similar plans surface every now and then.