National Geographic : 1907 Mar
RAILWAY ROU' The custom-house statistics show that $3,272,411 worth of goods were carried to the Alaska Yukon from the United States in 1905, which probably represents between 15 and 20 thousand tons of freight. The cost of the freight on this tonnage amounted probably to over $1,200,000 to the consumer. This sum, allowing three-quarters for operating ex penses, would pay probably 5 per cent in terest on the cost of constructing 200 miles of railway, or half the distance from tide-water to the Yukon placer camps. I call attention to this to show that, even with the present condition of development, railway projects are not entirely visionary. The important mineral-bearing area of Alaska falls- into four provinces, most of which are undergoing rapid development (see map, page 181). These are (i) the Pacific littoral, (2) the Seward Penin sula, (3) the Sushitna-Copper River province, and (4) the Yukon-Tanana region. The Pacific littoral lies for the most part on tide-water (see map, page 164), open throughout the year, and needs no railway system to develop, it, though there are many places where short lines will eventually be built. The Seward Peninsula, which in 19o6 pro duced about $7,300,000 worth of gold, is accessible to ocean-going vessels for fully a third of the year. These, with the Ioo miles of railway already in operation and other projected lines, afford means of communication which, while it leaves much to be desired, yet is sufficient to enable large mining operations to be car ried on. THE NEW YORK TO PARIS RAILWAY Plans for the construction of the so called New York to Paris Railway, across Alaska and Siberia, have found some earnest advocates during the past few years. Though this project rather falls outside of the present discussion, yet it deserves mention, if for no other reason than for the publicity it has re ceived. Alaska can obviously not be connected with the United States by rail TES IN ALASKA 173 except by a line through Canadian terri tory (see map, page 176). When the new Canadian transcontinental railway, known as the Grand Trunk Pacific, which is to reach to the Pacific coast in latitude 54°, is completed, a branch could be ex tended northward, which could reach Fairbanks with 800 to 1,ooo miles of track. While such a line would not en counter any serious obstacles, yet many watersheds would have to be crossed, and as it would run transverse to the larger drainage channels, there would be heavy expense for bridges. A railway from Fairbanks to Cape Prince of Wales would require at least 600omiles of track. It is proposed to tunnel Bering Strait, which is 54 miles from headland to head land, but is broken by the Diomede Islands, lying about half way between (see map, page 176). While tunnels of the length required are probably not an impossible engineering feat, they are so far beyond anything of the kind as yet attempted that it must be a bold group of capitalists who would undertake it. Fer riage across the strait, difficult in sum mer because of the strong northerly set ting current, is impossible during seven or eight months in the year because of the ice floes. As the strait seldom freezes over, communication without a tunnel would be entirely interrupted. This intercontinental railway project, divested of its glittering generalities, amounts to this: The first I,ooo miles of track would parallel the Pacific seaboard and reach a point less than 500 miles dis tant from tide-water by a more direct route. An additional 600 miles of track would be needed to reach Bering Strait, and this, too, would be in direct competi tion with deep-water navigation for at least a third of each year. Furthermore, to connect the two sides of the strait, as proposed, would require two tunnels more than twice as long as any hitherto constructed. The Siberian part of the route would appear to have even less justification, for here 1,500 to 2,000 miles of unsettled and unproductive territory would have to be traversed.