2004 News Archive
(July - September)
Officials agree: Railroad is far off - 9/15/04
Anchorage Daily News

Commuter rail service connecting Mat-Su to Anchorage is easier to talk about than actually accomplish, local mayors, railroad and highway officials reconfirmed on Tuesday. No one, and everyone, is in charge of the regional transportation squeeze, with ever increasing congestion clogging the Glenn Highway.

[See story]

GM EMD SD70MACs are not a piece of crap - 9/14/04
Submitted by an anonymous source

Inquiry: I was curious to know how the SD70's are performing. I've been reading alot of postings on the Eastern board of Trainorders and have notice a growing trend of CSX fans and workers mentioning how much their SD70's were crap. Seems they are having lots of problems. Thanks

Answer: The SD70MAC is a much more complicated piece of equipment than the GP and SD 40's. It is made more complicated by all the electronics, electronic interfaces and computers that are required to produce the productivity improvements that the SD70MAC brings. Yes, it requires more care and attention and it requires a greater level of technical competence. If the ARR were running long haul, fast TOFC/COFC trains or fast auto parts trains, then the decision that the UP made to buy a very simple SD70M makes a lot of sense. But that is not the kind of railroad that is run in Alaska. The railroad is mostly at 20 to 49 mph and on 1, 2 and 3 percent grades with a lot of curvature. And the railroad must have a locomotive that can do all of the line haul business types from export coal unit trains, to petroleum products unit trains, to cycling gravel unit trains, to mixed TOFC/COGC/general freight trains and including passenger trains! It is hard to beat the versatility of the SD70MAC when one has that kind of service to cover.

Yes the ARR has troubles, but given the choice, they are confident that their train crews would pick the SD70MAC over the GP's every time in comparable trains. Their shop people have stepped up to the technology leap very well and someone has recently brought them some additional help on the technology side.

They measure locomotive availability on the Alaska Railroad that includes everything. If a locomotive is in the shop for planned preventive maintenance or inspection, it counts as unavailable, just like if it were bad order. Even so, the SD70MAC's average about 94 percent
available. The ARR's GP locomotives average about 85 percent available.

Their most common cause of failure on SD70MAC's is electronic. It can be as simple as a data line that has come loose in its socket, to a computer failure. The FIRE integration electronics on the SD70MAC is Windows NT technology and it has the same problems that a desk top Windows NT machine has - every once and a while, it just shuts down and re-boots. When this happens, the locomotive stops and they wait about 7 minutes while it sorts itself out.

On the other hand, those computers allow the locomotive to do some pretty neat things that otherwise couldn't happen. One of the features that crews really like is the creep control that allows them to set up a low speed for loading coal or gravel, and lean back in the chair. On a conventional locomotive, the engineer would be riding that throttle all the time. It is pretty neat to watch those locomotives load up the tractive effort on the 3 percent, never slip and never have to worry about burning up traction motors at low speed.

The radial self steering axles in the trucks are pretty neat too. The radial trucks on the SD70MAC make big power possible on the Alaska Railroad. The ARR has had zero problems with the trucks. They have lost a few of the AC traction motors - more than they would have expected, but a whole lot less than they experienced with the DC fleet.

So, yes, there are some additional maintenance costs, but there is a whole lot more capability too. If one does not have a good preventive maintenance program for the locomotives then it can be seen how one could get into a lot of trouble pretty quickly.

A changing tide of tourism in Seward - 9/13/04
Alaska Journal of Commerce
By Melissa Campbell

It was a humble wake-up call: After more than a decade of service, Princess Tours and Carnival Cruise Lines said that in 2004 their ships would no longer dock in Seward. Instead, the five ships - totaling about 44 dockings - would take their roughly 90,000 passengers to Whittier.

In one fell swoop, Seward lost fully half its cruise ships. Seward's response? Oh well.

"Losing half our cruise ships in terms of tourism was kind of a nonevent," said Rick Blythe, the director of visitor services at the Alaska Sea Life Center and a member of the Seward Chamber of Commerce board of directors. "I mean, yeah, it was a disappointment to see it happen, but overall, business in town is still good."

[See story]

Summer on the rails - 9/12/04
Anchorage Daily News

A little-known fact about the muffler of a railroad spike puller is that you can cook fish on it.

Hugh Evans, a roadmaster for the Alaska Railroad, can attest to this. A few years back, a heavy-equipment operator on his track gang was "a connoisseur of cooking on heavy machinery." This guy would wrap fish and spices in foil and cook it right on that muffler while the gang made its slow way down the track, doing maintenance.

[See story]

More ships has meant more traffic, business for Whittier - 9/8/04
Alaska Journal of Commerce
by Melissa Campbell

Whittier is moving up in the land of "tourist destination."

Cruise ship traffic hit this relatively isolated town this year for the first time since 1993, as roughly 90,000 cruise ship passengers added Whittier to their itineraries this summer.

This is in addition to near-record vehicular traffic heading through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel this year, as more boaters, kayakers, day cruisers and the generally curious make their way through the 2.5-mile-long tunnel. The tunnel is the only land access in and out of the town.

[See story]

Commuter rail gives fair visitors nice ride, no traffic - 8/30/04
by Dan Fiorucci

At the Alaska State Fair Sunday, great weather led to huge crowds. An estimated 35,000 people jammed into the fair driving an estimated 10,000 cars. Some people are worried that in the future, the traffic situation will get out of hand.

Only one main road leads to the fair from Anchorage and with fair attendance growing by four percent each year, some people hope that steel rails can take up more of the burden of getting visitors to the fair.

[See story]

Fair-goers may ride from Anchorage to snazzy new train station - 8/27/04
Anchorage Daily News

Visitors to the Alaska State Fair this weekend will see something new: a $2.3 million stone and wood train station perched between the fairgrounds and the Glenn Highway.

In years past, fair-goers who rode the Alaska Railroad's special State Fair Train got dropped off trackside at little step stools.

This year, for $45, they get a round-trip ride from Anchorage and tickets to the fair. They will arrive at the new South Palmer Station, with restrooms, cover from the rain, a quarter-mile of track upgrades and a cool neon information board.

But $2.3 million for a train station used only a few days a year?

[See story]

Passenger car shop modifications - 8/24/04
From an anonymous source
The two new passenger cars for Alaska Railroad are 18 feet 1 inch above top of rail - just like the eight Holland cars and the four Royal Carnival cars. They will not pass through the doors of the car shop, so we have a separate project to raise those door heights before the cars get here. There is currently, no active plan for a new car shop although the Alaska Railroad has sketched one out and estimated it. They also proposed an alternative of building a new freight car shop and re-modeling the existing car shop for passenger trains only. There is no decision yet.
Latest passenger car info - 8/24/04
Based on an e-mail from Jr Johnstone
The single level dome car (551,552,553,554) will be refurbished this winter with new seating and wider spaces under the seats to hopefully fit a wheelchair. They will also have a new paint job inside too.

Also the 1950's style diner is not in use this season, but will be in use next year and will actually do a big remodel inside. They will actually change the theme to a "coffee house" like theme. The Tiki Railbar will most likely be on the Coastal Classic run next year

The Alaska Railroad is going to be doing this because of Princess. Since all the single level domes are chartered by the cruise ship companies Princess will charter from Whittier like this year, but instead of going to Anchorage, they will bypass it and go straight to Talkeetna then head back to Whittier with passengers like on the way up, but the Grandview train will still be based in Seward. Therefore, it will also be a long run for the staff on board.

On certain days Princess will take their cars off the Denali Star..and clean them, prep them after done doing the run, then send them to either Whittier and Denali with just one of the Alaska Railroad engines almost like what Tour Alaska did way back before.

I found this out by actually meeting the President of Princess Tours and the Director of Princess Rail division this morning while getting ready for the Whittier to Anchorage and back run.
Kenai Fjords ends contract - 8/24/04
Based on an e-mail from Virginia Gray
As of summer 2003, Kenai Fjords no longer contracts out with the Alaska Railroad, and therefore do not run their own tours. The KFT dome is still on the consist, however it is now used for Alaska Railroad passengers, and the dome is first-come, first-served.
City holds off on support for new railroad route - 8/24/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The Fairbanks City Council tabled a resolution that supported the Alaska Railroad coming into Fairbanks via the Parks Highway, saying that it wasn't necessary to discuss it yet.

"It's very premature," said Councilman Howard Thies. "We need some more information."
The council also passed two resolutions without objection. Most of the discussion centered on the railroad resolution.

Mayor Steve Thompson, who introduced the resolution, said other routes have been proposed for the railroad realignment. One of them may bypass Fairbanks completely and go across the foothills of the Alaska Range and then north toward Eielson, he said. There tracks would form a spur to Fairbanks, he said. That's something he, North Pole Mayor Jeff Jacobson and Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker say they don't want to happen.

[See story]

Stored GP49s - 8/23/04
From an anonymous source
We have four GP49s currently stored - actually fewer than originally planned as we had planned to store all of them. Again, with the purchase of the eight new SD70MAC's, the plan is to store the GP49's until the business growth requires them.
Railroad route on agenda - 8/23/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Staff Report

The Fairbanks City Council will look at resolutions relating to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor's Center project and a new route into Fairbanks for the Alaska Railroad this evening.

Mayor Steve Thompson is introducing a resolution approving a reimbursement agreement between the city and Tanana Chiefs Conference, approving a contract with HDR Alaska Inc. for real estate acquisition services for an amount not to exceed $329,502. No city funds will be needed for the this project.

[See story]

Traffic advancements tackle fair crowds - 8/22/04
By Joy Mapaye

A new $2 million project is set to debut this week at the Alaska State Fair. Fair organizers say the project represents a significant step in tackling traffic problems for the thousands expected to attend the event. Roughly 300,000 people are expected to attend the fair and this year organizers say there could be more if this weather holds.

Preparations are still underway for opening day on Thursday, but the new inter-modal facility is ready to go. The facility includes new railroad tracks, as well as parking and pull-out areas for van pools, busses, and carpools. Fair-goers can get off the train or the bus and go right into the fair grounds.

[See story]

Railroad issues ultimatum to Wasilla - 8/20/04

The Alaska Railroad has effectively delivered an ultimatum to the city of Wasilla -- the railroad is going to act and if the city and Mat-Su Borough want to be a part of it, they need to give the railroad some viable solutions, according to railroad officials.

Pat Gamble, Alaska Railroad Corp. president, referred to one of the alternatives in ARRC's effort to straighten and improve safety features all along the mainline track as the "Great Wall of Wasilla," in a speech Tuesday made to the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce.

Although the remark was made in jest, the reality of this solution is not a joke. Imagine an 8- to 20-foot berm that starts somewhere near the Glenn Highway and runs through the middle of town, with a few tunnels that run beneath the wall to allow traffic to pass under the tracks unhindered by the fast-moving trains traveling overhead. This plan would satisfy the safety concerns as well as the realignment efforts of the railroad.

"The ARRC would like to see an agreement made by the local governments before the railroad goes forward with their realignment effort," said Tim Thompson, public affairs officer for the railroad. "If an agreement can't be reached, the ARRC will keep doing what we've been doing -- run right through Wasilla."

In September 2000, the city of Wasilla authorized a Wasilla Alaska Railroad Relocation Reconnaissance Study, which looked into developing alternatives and estimating costs for relocating the Alaska Railroad in the Wasilla area.

The study was completed and released in 2002 after a period of public comment.

Everyone who spoke during the open-house meetings held by the city of Wasilla in November and December 2000 supported the project as long as it wasn't in their back yard, according to the study. The city's study developed five alternative routes, which also included a no-build alternative. Under the no-build alternative, the tracks would remain where they are.

The four alternatives initially released covered a variety of solutions. One alternative only eliminated seven at-grade crossings, requiring 136 acres of right of way and measuring 5.97 miles. Another alternative eliminated all 11 crossings from the Glenn Highway to the Wasilla Airport, requiring 193 right-of-way acres and measuring 7.98 miles.

Due to feedback the city received from the community, a fifth alternative was added that would eliminate all 11 crossings but would cost $5.5 million more than the other options.

An agreement for the rerouting alternatives must be reached between the city of Wasilla and the Mat-Su Borough Assembly, because the tracks would likely cross through city and borough land. Wasilla Mayor Dianne Keller served in 2000 as a member of the Mat-Su Borough local emergency planning committee, which decided that moving the tracks around Wasilla would greatly benefit the community for both safety reasons and economic growth potential.

Now the mayor is working with the borough and ARRC to find a solution for the problem. The city of Wasilla is hosting a closed summit with parties from the borough, Alaska Railroad and the city of Palmer to review the findings of the rail relocation study and discuss environmental assessment options, along with all the other potential problems and likely solutions,
in an attempt to reach an agreement that works for everyone. "The city of Wasilla, the borough, and the Alaska Railroad are all working together to find the best solution for all parties involved," Keller said. "This 'Great Wall of Wasilla' is just not acceptable."

With the steady increase of property value in the area, the price of this project is also steadily increasing. According to Gamble, things that are options now may not be options in the future. The railroad is currently working on an environmental assessment in the area between ARRC Milepost 154 through Milepost 158, which is just short of Knik-Goose Bay Road and includes the Fairview Loop crossing.

At the chamber meeting Tuesday, Gamble also fielded questions about the Point MacKenzie Bridge project and the possibility of running the rail across the bridge.

Gamble said running the railroad over the bridge is too cost prohibitive for ARRC to even consider right now, so it is not an option.

People interested in more information about the Wasilla-area project may visit the ARRC Web site at www.akrr.com and click on "Projects." People may also e-mail questions to public_comment@akrr.com.

Contact Michael White at mike.white@frontiersman.com.

Railroad says extension to Greely top priority - 8/12/04
The Juneau Empire
Courtesy Larry W. Grant

The Alaska Railroad is giving top priority to a planned extension to Fort Greely over a plan to realign the railroad in Fairbanks, a top railroad official said this week.

The realignment could be delayed until as late as 2011, said Alaska Railroad Corp. president Pat Gamble.

The railroad will first focus on extending the rail, first to Moose Creek then to Fort Greely, Gamble said Tuesday at a meeting with the Greater Fairbanks Area Chamber of Commerce.

The line to Fort Greely could take as long as six years to complete if the process starts next year, Gamble said.

The project could take up to two years for the environmental impact process, one year for engineering and three summers of construction, he said.

The Fort Greely extension picked up steam when the Legislature passed a bill last session allowing the corporation to sell up to $500 million in tax-free revenue bonds to finance the project.

Railroad extension to Greely given priority - 8/4/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The Alaska Railroad will reach Fort Greely before it's rerouted through the Fairbanks area, Alaska Railroad Corp. President Pat Gamble said Tuesday.

During a meeting with the Greater Fairbanks Area Chamber of Commerce, Gamble said a plan to realign the railroad where it travels through Fairbanks will take a back seat to the corporation's efforts to extend the rail, first to Moose Creek then to Fort Greely.

The realignment has been the subject of much local debate, with the forming of a task force to explore reroute options and resolutions passed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly and the North Pole City Council.

[See story]

Near-collision a warning for railroad track users - 8/3/04
By Gina Anderson

Some scary moments on the Alaska Railroad tracks this weekend -- and perhaps a cautious reminder.

Railroad officials say three adults and a teenager were riding two ATVs on the tracks Saturday evening to access a cabin about 30 miles south of Fairbanks.

But a train was also on the tracks, heading north carrying 400 passengers.

[See story]

Huge ice slab perplexes railroad engineers - 8/3/04
Alaska Star
By Greg Dart

Imagine an ice cube 800 feet long and 45 feet deep.

That's what Alaska Railroad engineers say they are dealing with in the Beach Lake area.

Railroad workers have been realigning track from Wasilla to Anchorage since 2001. The project includes straightening 70 curves and other changes to improve efficiency and safety, including the construction of a separated crossing at Beach Lake Road in Birchwood. Along with straightening five curves in that area, a span of track would be elevated above the road for a safer, grade-separated crossing.

That is, until the ice appeared.

[See story]

Usibelli to ship coal to Chilean power plant - 7/21/04
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
By DANIEL RICE, Staff Writer

Coal from Healy will be heading to a South American power plant next month under a deal signed between Usibelli Coal Mine and the energy resources trading company Glencore Ltd.

Glencore is buying a shipment of 45,000 metric tons of low-sulfur coal from Usibelli's Healy mine and selling it to a power plant in northern Chile, the company announced Tuesday.

The shipment will travel from Healy to Seward via the Alaska Railroad sometime during the last half of August and be shipped from there to the Chile plant. The arrangement is part of Usibelli's expanding effort to find international markets for its coal, said Bill Brophy, vice president for customer relations.

[See story]

Alaska governor pitches $23.5 billion road, rail, pipeline links with Canada - 7/14/04
The Associated Press

The governor of Alaska wants Canada to get on board what he calls a $23.5 billion big-vision project that includes building railway, pipeline and highway links that connect Alaska with Canada and the United States.

Alaska is teeming with natural resources but it needs improved transportation networks to ship products to southern markets, Gov. Frank Murkowski said Tuesday.

The big vision project includes building a 2,174-mile natural gas pipeline from Alaska to northern Alberta, where it will connect with an existing pipeline that ships energy to the southern United States, he said.

The project also includes extending the state-owned Alaska Railway line to northern British Columbia where it will join now privately owned B.C. Rail at Dease Lake and extend an existing highway connection in southeast Alaska about 31 miles into northwestern British Columbia, Murkowski said.

[See story]

New MAC status report - 7/12/04
Submitted by an anonymous source

[Note from webmaster: Sorry about posting this a little late! - JC

The new MAC's have had a few teething troubles, but all are in service now. The 4323 has made numerous trips to Fairbanks and back on the point of the Denali Star and has done just fine. The 4317 and 4324 arrived only last Thursday [June 10], but both are in service. We got them just in time as we had a group of failures on the older MAC's including some electronic problems, aux-generator rubber bushings faliures and a cracked power aassembly. It now appears that the rubber bushings on the aux-gen shaft should have been changed out on the three year mini-overhaul, but it was not called for in the EMD maintenance instruction for the three year. We have now added it.

Alaska Railroad tests equipment to detect rail breaks - 7/12/04
Trains.com NewsWire

Wanting to be aware of rail breaks faster, the Alaska Railroad Corp. is testing a system for detecting broken rail along track that is not equipped with automatic signals. The Track Integrity System demonstration is a $409,740 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) technology demonstration project funded through the Next Generation High Speed Rail Program. The FRA is contributing 93 percent ($380,993) and ARRC is contributing 7 percent ($28,747). Although not on a designated high-speed rail corridor, the Alaska site was chosen because of its challenging climactic conditions.

The 14-month project calls for ARRC to purchase and install rail break detection, system monitoring, and alerting hardware and software. The track integrity test bed will consist of three sections of track and one locomotive. Track locations north and south of Anchorage are being considered based on conditions and accessibility. ARRC will test the system throughout the year, document the results, and evaluate how well it meets FRA fail-safe criteria, as well as rail industry performance requirements.

In signaled territory, the rails also function as wires in the signal circuit, with a low-voltage current running through each rail. A train has steel wheels connected by a steel axle, so when the train is on the track it effectively links the positively charged rail with the negatively charged rail, thus causing a "short" in the circuit, which in turn activates the signal. Circuits created in track for signaling purposes can also detect broken rail. In this case, when a rail breaks, the circuit's electrical current is disrupted.

Weak electrical current will only travel a finite distance, so signaled track is made up of consecutive track circuits. On the Alaska, these track circuits are, on average, about 2 miles apart. However, 85 percent of ARRC's track corridor is not equipped with signals. In these "dark" areas, rail defects are discovered by frequent track inspections as well as on-going rail and roadbed maintenance. The Track Integrity System being tested is expected to identify rail breaks in dark territory as reliably as breaks detected in signal territory.

The test system will apply electricity to the track to create circuits similar to those in signalized territory. However, the system is designed to make the electrical current travel farther, up to 5 miles. It is also designed to conserve energy by putting the circuit into a "sleep" or suspended mode until activated by an approaching train. The system is comprised of a wayside (along the track) device and office software and equipment. Several experienced contractors have been secured to provide these system elements.

Test equipment will be installed, and circuits created, at 5-mile intervals. As a locomotive approaches, it signals the wayside devices and activates the circuits. If circuits are intact, the wayside device confirms track integrity, and the locomotive proceeds. If the circuit is disrupted, the system feeds this information to a data radio, which then forwards it to an on-board computer display. If the train crew does not respond, the onboard system forces the train to stop, and then allows the train to proceed at a restricted speed. The system will also be used to notify maintenance crews who are dispatched to fix the problem. Project testing and demonstration are expected to be completed in late 2005.

T-16 FRA inspection vehicle - 7/7/04
Submitted by an anonymous source
The T-16 is an FRA inspection vehicle that measures all kinds of track geometry. The railroad used to have Sperry rail services do this, but they couldn't get them this summer so they used FRA to do it.
MATI Trains of Thought - 7/7/04
By Pat Durand

Report date - June 20, 2004

June brought two tours of railfans to the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. The MATI rail crew saw to the preparations and hosted them while at the Museum in Wasilla. Wilderness Rail Tours conducted the first ever Motor Car (Speeder) tour of the entire Alaska Railroad system. Based out of Anchorage with trips to Seward and Whittier and then north to Fairbanks they covered nearly 1100 miles. A total of 12 Motor Cars from New Hampshire, Florida, California, Oregon and points between were trailered into Anchorage. Two Alaska Railroad crew members, Steve Love and Rocky Murrill, with Hy-rail trucks providing pilot service front and rear for the 10 day adventure.

On Thursday, June 10, they received clearance to park on the main at mile 162..5 for about two hours while they visited MATI for a tour conducted by Jeff DeBroeck and Pat Durand. They got to ride in the Museum's Chitina Auto Railer a 1935 Chevrolet Hy-rail bus. They were very interested in the Black Mariaha, the 1966 Chrysler station wagon on Hy-rail gear. Traffic on the railroad dictated an early departure but some of the operators returned on June 19 to continue their visit at MATI.

Trains Unlimited Tours brought 15 railfans from Holland, Scotland, England and the Lower 49 to Alaska to chase and ride trains on the White Pass and Yukon Railway and The Alaska Railroad. On Thursday they came south on the train to Wasilla and stayed over at the Best Western on Lake Lucille so they could be on hand Friday, June 19, for a morning tour at MATI. They were greeted by Ed Kovich, Gail & Richard Clinch, Russ Wood and Pat Durand with rides and a walking tour of the rail collection. Section House Lunch consisted of moose stew and desert of rhubarb duff, augmented by Subway sandwiches. The expected three hour stop was extended to five while our visitors had time to take a ride on the very narrow gauge (7.5 inch) Alaska Central Railroad with Jack Klingbeil and Bob Engelbach.

Local railfans then hosted the Trains Unlimited Tours group to a tour of the Matanuska Valley from Wasilla to Palmer, the Matanuska River Overlook and concluded far up Old Knik River Road. Marty and Agnes Quaas opened their home for a dinner and operating session on the HO scale Consolidated Southwestern Railroad at the end of the day. Bob Alemeda, Dick Ayers and Ed Kovich assisted visiting railroaders while they operated the trains over the line. Other visitors just enjoyed the spectacular scenery while unwinding near the end of their tour.

The weather was remarkable, in the high 70's and not a cloud to be found. Those conditions continued over the weekend while the Alaska Antique Power Expo was conducted at the Museum. Marty and Agnes were on hand with the Moose Lip Railroad for Operation Life Saver. The MATI Rail Crew mounted the Black Mariaha on Museum rails and gave a few trips. The Chitina Auto Railer made the rounds of the park. GE locomotive #1604 was started up to provided some authentic railroad sound effects. Kids of all ages enjoyed the MATI railroad short line and mom said we did not have to be home until dark.

Photo - Wilderness Rail Tours making a stop at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry on June 10, 2004



Page created 8/2/04 and last updated 10/1/04