The delivery of the Alaska Railroad's SD70MACs

2000 Delivery Dates

Number Departed
Juniata, PA
Anchorage, AK
4001 January 8 February 10
4002 January 6 February 10
4003 January 6 February 10
4004 January 8 February 19
4005 January 10 February 25
4006 January 28 February 25
4007 February 15 March 28
4008 February 19 April 17
4009 March 10 April 9
4010 March 10 April 9
4011 March 16 April 17
4012 April 8 May 8
4013 April 1 April 27
4014 April 1 April 27
4015 April 1 April 27
4016 April 14 May 5

Pennsylvannia to Washington

Delivery route
Routing of ARR's S70MACs from Altoona, PA (or in the case of #4001, London, Ontario) to Seattle, WA.
                           Major stops occur at Chicago's Proviso Yard and Northwest Platte, NE.

The Barge Connection (Washington to Alaska)

The SD70MACs complete their cross country rail jaunt at Harbor Island in Seattle.  Since there isn't a rail connection between the Lower 48 and Alaska, the mighty SD70MACs will catch a railbarge to their final destination.

To prepare them for their ocean voyage, yard workers cover the locomotive's roof openings and intakes with plastic.   Four hundred pound custom made tarps are then placed over the top half of the engine to protect the paint from the salt spray.  Now they are ready to be loaded onto the barge.

The barge slip consists of four mooring dolphins and a railcar transfer span, which is like a bridge. One end of the transfer span is on the land side and the other end rests on the stern of the barge.  When the tide is just right the loading starts.  The Union Pacific operated yard switcher operates with four old side view cabooses, or idlers, between it and the railcars being loaded. This is to keep the heavy weight of the yard switcher off of the transfer span, which would cause the stern of the barge to move lower in the water.  As the MACs do not have much clearance between their fuel tanks and the tracks, it is necessary to keep from creating a high spot when the MACs roll from the transfer span onto the deck of the barge.

Once onboard the MACs and the other railcars are secured by being coupled to a headblock welded onto the steel deck at the bow of the barge.  The yard switcher then pushes all of the slack out of string of six or seven cars and the air is then cut.  The hand brakes are then set on each car before the real lashing starts.  First wheel checks are put in place beneath the wheels of the railcars and the securing nuts on the wheel chocks pounded closed with sledge hammers.   Next four jacks, or eight in the case of the MACs, are placed beneath the jacking points on each car and the cars are actually "jacked up" so their weight rests on the jacks and not on their springs.  The railcars are then secured to the deck with between four to ten one-half inch chains and turnbuckles.  Crowley Marine Services has never lost a railcar at sea in 38 years of service!

Once the locomotives (and other freight) are secure on the barge, they begin their journey.  The tug boat's tow line is secured to the barge and the voyage begins.  The tug Master pays close attention to the National Weather Service weather broadcasts and maps and takes a route that follows the Inside Passage through Canadian coastal waters.  The tug and barge pass behind the Queen Charlotte  Islands, which shield them from rougher weather.  Eventually they reach Icy Straits, a body of water between Gustavus and Hoonah, due west of Juneau which are the last protectedwaters before the Gulf of Alaska.  If the weather looks reasonably good, the captain will begin the voyage across the Gulf of Alaska, one of the more treacherous stretches of the North Pacific Ocean.  If a severe storm is forecast, with swells exceeding 20 feet, the tug and barge will remain in Icy Straits to wait out the storm.  While tugs and barges can safely navigate in storm conditions, the tows do not proceed across the Gulf of Alaska until conditions moderate to avoid any possibility of damage to the non railcar freight on the barge.

Once the tug and barge have traveled the several hundred miles of open water across the Gulf of Alaska, they will pull into the Whittier dock. Again, the railroad ballet of idler cars (this time flats) are used to retrieve locomotives and freight from the barge.  After a short inspection, the MACs will head to their new home in Anchorage.

Voyage times between Seattle and Whittier vary due to weather and can range from six (summer) to eight (winter) days.  In rare cases of extremely bad weather a voyage can even take fifteen days.

Preparing the SD70MACs for service

The SD70MACs do not arrive in Anchorage "reay to run".  First, the personnel must spend time receiving some "hands on" training.  This training includes conductors, engineers, mechanics and a wide variety of other personnel.

The main project (in terms of time) is to warm them up.  Thermostats at various places must all be satisfied before the microprocessor that is the brains of the machine will even allow the starter to crank the engine.  It requires 24 to 48 hours for all that iron (and the cold water that was put in it) to warm up sufficiently.  Aside from that "hurry up and wait" aspect, there is a long list of normal things: fill the cooling system with water (they were drained so they would not freeze en-route) and "pre-lube"   The latter is a standard procedure for units that have not been run for a long time.  To prevent heavy wear at start-up, lube oil is pumped around for a while to be sure nothing is dry when the engine is first turned over.

The first test run of the SD70MACs took place on February 26, 2000.  Numbers 4002, 4003 and 4004 pulled 44 hoppers loaded with coal from Anchorage to Seward.