USA: The Surface Transportation Board has approved Alaska Railroad Corp's plans for the Northern Rail Extension from North Pole, Alaska, subject to environmental mitigation conditions.

The single track line will run 130 km southeast to Delta Junction from the current terminus of the Eielson branch near to North Pole south of Fairbanks.

State-owned ARRC began developing plans for the extension in 2004. Following a review of the environmental impact and public feedback STB gave its approval on January 6. Construction is expected to take three years at a cost of up to $700m.

ARRC will use the line to provide reliable year-round freight and passenger services to the area south of North Pole where the Richardson Highway is currently the only surface transport option. The line will also provide access to the Tanana Flats and Donnelly military training grounds which can only be reached by air except when the Tanana River is frozen between January and March,

ARRC plans to run one freight train a day, and expects to carry 13 000 wagons of fuel, military, construction and agricultural materials a year. There will also be four daily return passenger trains between Fairbanks and Delta Junction.