Varcoe: Presidential permit puts Alberta-to-Alaska rail link on track

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“What this does now is remove a major risk factor.”

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney told reporters Wednesday the province had advocated for the presidential permit to be issued, and he’s discussed the project with Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy.

“We are very excited about the possibility of this project, to add yet another major export avenue for Alberta commodities,” said Kenney.

“Progress is being made, but I think it’s still early days. It’s too soon to pop any champagne corks.”

Premier Jason Kenney. Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta

In a statement, Dunleavy backed the idea of a rail connection between Alaska, Canada and the rest of the United States, noting it will lower the cost of goods and services to Alaskans.

However, a project with large capital costs and spanning several jurisdictions carries potential complications, said Barry Prentice, a transportation expert and professor at the University of Manitoba.

If built, the railway would give oilsands producers another way to move their bitumen to markets, although it would have to be competitive with pipelines, and oil prices would need to be above their current level, he said.

There are also technical challenges of building in the North through various terrains, he said.

“The real question is economic viability and that’s always been the question,” Prentice said.

McCoshen, who has worked as a private banker, said he’s invested about $130 million on the proposal to date. The project will include significant Indigenous ownership and talks with First Nations are ongoing, he said.

The company has private investment lined up to get going, but will be speaking with sovereign wealth funds and institutional investors for possible involvement at some point.

“We are going to be running hard, we have the financing to start and we’re privately financed and we’re taking off. So we’re really excited.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

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