Canada plans world's northernmost rail line 
Published: September 18, 2008
Source: Oliver Moore - Toronto Globe and Mail

It will be the world's most northerly railway, a private line snaking across the permafrost and rock of Baffin Island in northern Canada.

The ambitious project is part of a plan to tap iron-ore deposits 559 miles northwest of Iqaluit. The plan is subject to regulatory approval and securing financing, but preliminary drilling is under way, say officials of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

Construction of the 89-mile railway from Mary River to Steensby Inlet is expected to start the summer after next and take four years.

The engineers say the steady cold on Baffin Island offers some benefit, removing technical challenges present in areas with more temperature flux. But the harsh environment will make construction much more difficult.

"There's severe weather and all of our construction schedules have to be built around that," said Rod Cooper, Baffinland chief operating officer and vice-president of operations.

The plan is to start building the railway from both ends. The line will use a special type of high-grade steel designed for the extremely cold environment. And care will have to be taken to ensure that the embankment acts as an insulating layer that stops the permafrost from thawing.

The line will ferry workers to the mine site but will be used primarily to carry ore to the port, from which it will be shipped to Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The projections call for four trains a day, nearly 300 days a year.

Mary River is projected to produce 19.8 million tons of iron ore annually for a generation.