Improved transportation routes through northern Alberta could increase economic diversification and help produce value-added commodities, and it’s a mission the Generating for Seven Generations (G7G) group has been promoting for almost 10 years.

G7G was created to explore the development of a rail link – approximately 2,400-kilometre double rail track – that would begin at Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta and travel across the northern part of the province through the Mackenzie region of northwest Alberta before crossing into B.C. and then up north through the Yukon and on to Alaska.

“Alaska has been trying to connect with the lower 48 States since the Harriman Expedition (of the early 20th century) and this rail connection will immediately lower the cost of living for all those people in the North including the Peace [Region],” says Matt Vickers, chief executive officer of G7G. “It will lessen the greenhouse gas emissions due to less transport trucks on the road and it will also give businesses in the Peace [Region] access to the Asian markets at a very affordable price.”

The group began by working with First Nations in Canada and Tribes of Alaska to build support for the railway. After securing this support, G7G undertook a pre-feasibility study that received $1.8 million in support from the Government of Alberta. G7G has continued working with indigenous and non-indigenous governments along the proposed route to secure support and raise private capital for the estimated $27 billion project. Both are nearly complete.

“The connection to Alaska would reduce shipping times for our commodities to Asian markets and reduce transit times by 48 hours. This development would also provide an opportunity to bring products into landlocked Alberta via Alaska.”
– Carolyn Kolebaba, chair of the Northern Transportation Advocacy Bureau and Reeve of Northern Sunrise County

This is the type of project the Northern Transportation Advocacy Bureau (NTAB) has been championing since its inception a year ago. Transportation is such a vital economic link that the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance (PREDA) and the Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI) of Northern Alberta joined forces to form the Northern Transportation Advocacy Bureau (NTAB).

“This year, NTAB is focusing on building awareness amongst governments and industry on the potential value and opportunities of a rail line connecting Alberta with Alaska,” says Carolyn Kolebaba, chair of the NTAB and Reeve of Northern Sunrise County. “The connection to Alaska would reduce shipping times for our commodities to Asian markets and reduce transit times by 48 hours. This development would also provide an opportunity to bring products into landlocked Alberta via Alaska.”

The centre of economic activity in REDI is High Level, a town nearly 800 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. The region is rich with forestry, agriculture, and oil and gas activity, which is why the NTAB is also looking at ways to connect REDI and PREDA with Fort McMurray. This trade route would provide an economic boost to the Mackenzie and Peace Country regions, but also provide Fort McMurray businesses with access to oilfield service companies in the area, and eventually, access to tidewater.

“For many years, we have been looking at a highway corridor to connect Fort McMurray to the Peace Region,” says Dan Dibbelt, executive director of the NTAB, as well as PREDA and REDI.

Last year NTAB undertook the Municipal and Regional Airport Sustainability Study, providing recommendations to governments and airports to address financial challenges in keeping local airports sustainable. This report will help local government and airports work on management structures, look at their fee structures and eventually increase service to Northern Alberta.

With access to better transportation routes, such as rail to Alaska or air services, businesses in the region would have broader distribution for their products, and Dibbelt says the NTAB continues to talk with the provincial, territorial and state governments to increase access to northwestern Alberta.