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The Alaska Railroad had just celebrated its 50th anniversary

of the signing of the letter to commision the railroad.

Within little more than two weeks it would be faced

with one of its toughest challenges.

The 1964 Good Friday earthquake and ensuing tsunamis

took 125 lives (tsunamis 110, earthquake 15)

and caused about $311 million in property loss.

Earthquake effects were heavy in many Alaskan towns

Chitina, Glennallen, Homer, Hope, Kasilof, Kenai, Kodiak,

Moose Pass, Portage, Seldovia, Seward, Sterling, Valdez, Wasilla, and Whittier.

Anchorage, about 120 kilometers northwest of the epicenter, sustained the most severe damage to property.

But what about the Alaska Railroad?


Since the earthquake had occurred on Friday evening, no one had any way of knowing the extent of the damage to the railroad. Communications were out and power was down. It was not until dawn on March 28 that the shocking reality became known. General Manager John E. Manley and Chief Engineer Cliff Fuglestad flew over the line in a helicopter. Cliff started a damage list as they flew over Anchorage. By the time they got to Potter (only a short distance away), there were so many items that Cliff gave up on the list. In Seward, they found the ARR virtualy ceased to exist. The smaller port of Whittier was beyond immediate use. Over 186 of its 536 miles of track were warped beyond use or flooded during high tides. Over 110 bridges/trestles required repair or replacement. Approximately $3 million of rolling stock (131 of ARR registry and 44 private cars) were damaged or swept out to sea. Hugh landslides required relocation of track. Some sections of the railroad simply slide down embankments or dropped into the water. Docks, buildings and shops were smashed, burned or demolished. Total damage was estimated in excess of $25 million. However, in the true Alaskan spirit, the railroad would make a quiet comeback that would astound the world!


The 1964 Earthquake and the Alaska Railroad


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The information on this page was last updated November 24, 1998
© 1998 John Combs unless otherwise noted
Page created 11/22/98