Evaluating an Arctic Grain Terminal on the Beaufort Sea

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While Canada exports a substantial volume of agricultural produce through their Pacific Coast ports, the railways are back logged carrying mainly grain from the Prairie agricultural region to Pacific Ports. There is the option of an additional terminal in the Arctic region. 

Northern Railways

Canadian railway operators carry substantial bulk freight from their western provinces and across the Rocky Mountains to west coast ports. Some ore trains may involve up to a dozen locomotives spaced throughout extended length trains. The combination or container and bulk freight transportation has pushed trans-Rocky Mountain railway lines to their capacity. While a railway line extends north to Hudson Bay and the Port of Churchill, Arctic ice discourages sailing vessels from Churchill to Asian ports. Another northern railway line extends from Alberta to Great Slave Lake and the navigable Mackenzie River that flows to the Arctic.

The railway line that connects to Port of Churchill is built on Canadian tundra and requires the operation of lightly loaded railway carriages pulled by lighter weight locomotives. By comparison, the western railway line to Great Slave Lake is built on much firmer terrain allowing for upgrading to carry heavier trains that travel at higher frequency. Grain storage silos may be possible at Great Slave Lake to combine railway schedules with bulk-barge-on-river sailing and navigation schedules. Weather conditions that increase northern temperatures could affect that load carrying capacity of the railway line to Churchill.

Mackenzie River Navigation

Several years ago, the Northern Transportation Company operated tug barges along the Mackenzie and into the Beaufort Sea. The barges were 40 percent wider, 40 percent deeper and better than double the length of the Mississippi River barges that could be coupled lengthwise and sideways into tows. Northern Transportation Company actually tested extended length, coupled barge trains along the Mackenzie River, using computer aided navigation to provide for superior vessel directional control. 

The backlog of grain waiting for railway transportation for Canada’s Pacific ports invites re-examination of sailing bulk-carrier barge trains between Great Slave Lake and the Beaufort Sea.<

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