Six gravel trains a day needed for Anchorage construction
The railroad is on track for a robust gravel-hauling year, as the annual spring rush of hopper cars are moved over the line between Palmer and Anchorage to replenish winter stockpiles.
Major construction projects in and around Anchorage this summer have the railroad running as many as six, 80-car gravel trains daily from Palmer, at rock pits owned by Central Paving Products, Anchorage Sand & Gravel, and Quality Asphalt and Paving.
The annual spring rush is similar to the fall when increased gravel train traffic lasts from late August though mid-October, so that rock can be stockpiled for the winter.
Normally, the railroad runs only three trains daily in the summer months.
Despite several measures in recent years to hush train noise, more gravel trains mean more gripes from folks who live near the tracks, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska Railroad’s public affairs officer.
The railroad has spent millions of dollars over the years to hush train noise, including replacing 35-foot rail sections with 80-foot sections that lessens the ’clickity clack’ sound by half.
The railroad also has installed miles of track near residential areas called "continuously welded rail,’’ where the gaps in the steel rails have been filled with metal, creating a steady, less annoying sound. And foliage has been planted along the line to create a buffer in some residential areas.
Gravel trains are heavy, causing vibrations along the line, a sensation likened to a mini-earthquake. More trains mean more blasts from train whistles at at-grade crossings, something railroads are required to do by law.
"We have to do it," said Flynn of the increased gravel trains. "There is a demand. Busy gravel operations mean a busy Alaska economy."
Flynn said trains keep big gravel trucks off the Glenn Highway, reducing traffic and causing less wear and tear on the state’s roads, where much of the gravel ultimately ends up in asphalt. He said the gravel trains keep hundreds of large trucks off Alaska highways daily.
Behind fuel, gravel is the most moved commodity for the Alaska Railroad. The railroad hauled some 3.54 million tons of gravel last year, just short of the record-breaking year of 1999 when 3.6 million tons of rock was moved.
In 2000, a slowed economy cut gravel shipments significantly, Flynn said.
Mike Harned, sales manager of Anchorage Sand & Gravel, said there is a huge need for rock this summer.
"It looks like it will be a good gravel year," Harned said. "There are a lot of good projects like the new high school, airport work, C Street work and a lot of new subdivisions."