Alaska State Representative Jesse Sumner, a Republican from Wasilla, has proposed a bill aimed at the privatization of the Alaska Railroad. Titled HB 332, the proposal sets forth a timeline for the Alaska governor to solicit purchase proposals for the railroad and its assets by June 15, with an objective to finalize a sale by February 15, 2025. The sale would be to an entity committed to operating the railroad for at least five decades, honoring all existing contracts with labor, shippers, and connecting carriers, subject to legislative approval.

The rationale behind the bill, as outlined in Sumner’s Sponsor Statement, highlights the constraints faced by the Alaska Railroad under state management, particularly in investment, innovation, and strategic growth. Sumner emphasizes the potential benefits of privatization, including streamlined governance and the infusion of private sector expertise, alongside a resource development agreement poised to catalyze sustainable expansion of Alaska’s vast resource base.

During a March 21 meeting with the state House Transportation Committee, Sumner advocated for a broader dialogue on the future direction of the railroad and its role in resource development, acknowledging the debate surrounding the potential sale of the railroad. Since its completion in 1923 and transfer to state ownership in 1985, the railroad has not expanded its tracks, a point of contention highlighted by Transportation Committee Chair Kevin McCabe, who also hails from the Republican Party. McCabe criticized the stagnation in track development and resource expansion, suggesting the bill could serve as both a catalyst for action and a fallback option if necessary.

McCabe further stressed the importance of establishing rail access to Port MacKenzie, a deepwater port without current rail connectivity, suggesting that privatization could be a viable solution to overcome this infrastructure shortfall.

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