National Geographic : 1907 Mar
RAILWAY ROUTES IN ALASKA* BY ALFRED H. BROOKS GEOLOGIST IN CHARGE OF ALASKAN DIVISION, U. S . GEOLOGICAL SURVEY TRANSPORTATION is the first essential element to the indus trial advancement of a new land. Therefore, though the subject of railway location may be of no great aca demic interest, there lies a justification for its discussion in the fact that it is of such vital importance to those who are developing the resources of Alaska. Moreover, the matter is timely because of its relation to a broad question of public policy, for many efforts have been made in recent years to obtain financial support from the federal government for Alaskan railway projects. Popular interest in this subject appears to be only excelled by popular ignorance of it-an ignorance, too, which is con stantly being augmented by misstate ments in current literature. Some years ago the assertion was made in a maga zine article that some parts of Alaska were being rapidly gridironed by rail ways. To those familiar with the prim itive condition of transportation main taining throughout the territory, such a statement can appear little short of ridic ulous. This misleading article has, how ever, evidently been regarded as author itative, for it has found place in a popular encyclopaedia. Though the aggregate mileage of rail ways in Alaska is less than 200, but little more than that of Porto Rico, this is divided among eight different lines. Of these, four are along the Pacific sea board, three on the Seward Peninsula, and one in the Tanana Valley (see map, page 164). All of these railways have been built to supplement water trans portation. RAILWAY LOCATION In the discussion to follow of the prin ciples governing railway location, I will confine myself entirely to commercial lines, for obviously railways built for military or scenic purposes will follow routes determined by entirely different conditions. The controlling factors of railway loca tion fall into two important groups, here termed (i) commercial and (2) geo graphic, while in regions lying close to international boundaries a third, namely, political, becomes operative. Each of the first two groups resolves itself into sev eral subordinate factors, one or more of which may dominate in any given prov ince, to the practical exclusion of all the others. The following table is an at tempt to present a terse analysis of the problem of railway location: I. Commercial control: I. Developed resources (statistics of pro duction and commerce). 2. Undeveloped resources. Mineral (economic geology). Agricultural (climate, soils, and bot any). Timber (distribution, quality, and quantity). 3. Population. 4. Competitive or supplementary lines of transportation (navigable waters and existing railways). II. Geographic control: I. Position (terminals and connecting lines of transportation). 2. Distances (comparison of distances of different routes). 3. Relief (mountain ranges, passes, and valleys, as affecting gradients). 4. Water-courses (depths and width of rivers, as affecting construction of bridges or ferries). 5. Climate (precipitation, etc., as affecting cost of construction, operation, and maintenance). III. Political control: I. Political boundaries. Before analyzing this table I will fore stall possible criticism by stating that certain elements which must of necessity * Published by permission of the Director of the United States Geological Survey. Read at the third annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, New York, January I, 1907.