Thunder Bay

China Rail engineers, KWG resources crew surveys for Ring of Fire railroad

A group of engineers from China have spent their day surveying a potential rail line to access the Ring of Fire.

Railway could be built in about 3.5 years, at a cost of up to $2 billion, KWG Resources official says

Seven engineers from China Rail, along with officials from KWG Resources, flew by helicopter from Thunder Bay today to the Ring of Fire region in northern Ontario. The crew will restart the work it began in 2010 to plot out a railroad to access the mining area. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

A group of engineers from China have spent their day surveying a potential rail line to access the Ring of Fire.

Seven engineers from China Rail, along with officials from KWG Resources went by helicopter from Thunder Bay today.

KWG vice-president Moe Lavigne said the engineers will check over the area that was first surveyed in 2010.

"This is the best time to do it, because what they're really interested in is seeing the ice conditions," he said.

"And the ice has a lot of impact on bridges. They want to see that so, when they design the bridges, it mitigates potential harm from the ice."

Mark Wiskemann, president of Wisk Air, stands beside a Bell 412 helicopter. "The development of the Ring of Fire — to the state that it is in today — is largely due to helicopters are available," he told CBC News. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

'Huge' development for the area

The president of Wisk Air, Mark Wiskemann, said the crew will "be leaving from here, direct to Nakina, and from that point on they'll be refuelling, and then proceeding directly to the Ring of Fire to the KWG properties."

Wiskemann called the railroad development "huge."

"We've been involved in the Ring of Fire since 2007," he said, adding that Wisk Air has been involved with flying in various companies throughout the staking and exploration stages.

To have the railroad project "revisited and re-opening is huge for the area," he continued.

"It's huge for our company, it means so much for the people in northwestern Ontario."

Wisk Air's Bell 412 helicopter carries more than 4,000 lbs, and 14 passengers.

"If you've been to the Ring of Fire, you know that the lakes up there are small in terms of their diameter, and also shallow. So, it makes float plane access not impossible, but difficult," Wiskemann said.

"So, the development of the Ring of Fire — to the state that it is in today — is largely due to helicopters are available."

And once the railway goes in?

"We'll be on to other projects developing northwestern Ontario," Wiskemann said.

Moe Lavigne, vice president of KWG Resources, says the latest round of engineering work “is very important to our Chinese partner, because that becomes the foundation for the feasibility study." (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Making up for lost time

Lavigne said the crew is going to fly the route they did in 2010, which took four months and four choppers, in winter, to complete.

Without any existing roads to bring in materials to build the railroad, the challenges ahead will be building structures like bridges.

Lavigne said they will likely create ice roads from Highway 599 (Pickle Lake Highway) to help build the rail line, at every river crossing.

The railway will likely span about 328 km, depending on how much it zigs and zags, he added

And the cost?

Anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion.

This latest round of engineering work "is very important to our Chinese partner, because that becomes the foundation for the feasibility study," Lavigne said.

"Hopefully having a very senior partner like FSDI — First Design and Survey Institute, a part of China Rail — will stimulate some momentum in this, and we'll get going. So, we're still quite a few years away from having shovels in the ground."

Lavigne said the railway could be built in about 3.5 years.

A railway could be built in about 3.5 years, at a cost of up to $2 billion, a KWG Resources official says. (Noront Resources)

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