Railroad back on track three days after quake
The first Alaska Railroad trains were back traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks late Dec. 3 following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that damaged the tracks running between Alaska’s largest cities Nov. 30.
Alaska Railroad Corp. spokesman Tim Sullivan said afternoon Dec. 3 that service on the railroad’s northern route was expected to resume later that day “due to the hard work of a hell of a lot of people.”
A day-and-a-half after the quake it was unclear when the tracks would be reopened as the quake had rendered at least three areas “impassable,” Sullivan told the Anchorage Daily News at the time, as inspections were ongoing.
Dec. 3 he said at least a half-dozen areas of damage were identified including the three that required immediate repairs to reopen the route.
“Those three are now passable,” Sullivan said. “They will be slow orders. There will be folks going over them beforehand to make sure that they’re in good shape; folks will be going over them after the trains to make sure they’re still in good shape — that we don’t see any difference in them after the trains go through and that will be the case for quite some time.”
In addition to areas where the gravel bed subsided, there were other areas where the tracks shifted but can still be used with caution at slower than normal speeds, he added.
As is the case with many construction projects in Alaska, there is a lot the railroad can’t do to repair its tracks in the winter so some of the work will have to wait until spring, according to Sullivan.
The tracks south of Anchorage to Whittier and Seward did not sustain as much damage.
The railroad issued a subsequent release Dec. 4 stating that it was set to resume regularly scheduled passenger and freight service along the entirety of its routes.
“We could not be more pleased with the work our crews have done to get the Alaska Railroad back up and running in just over 72 hours,” Vice President of Marketing Dale Wade said in a formal statement. “This incredible effort from railroaders speaks to the grit and perseverence of Alaska and its people. We are happy to be able to return to serving our passengers and freight customers so quickly.”
Summer is the busy season for passenger service, but the Alaska Railroad has increased its winter ridership in recent years by offering offseason fare discounts along with holiday, aurora-viewing and other themed trains.
In all, the railroad has passenger service on 482 miles of track from Fairbanks to Whittier and Seward.
The railroad has also been a primary supplier of fuel to the Interior since Flint Hills Resources closed its North Pole refinery in the spring of 2014.
The earthquake also caused a pipe to burst in the railroad’s Anchorage Operations Center, which will require significant work to repair, but the railroad’s other facilities in Anchorage sustained only minor damage.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].