Spirit of North Pole

by Art Chase

My daughter was asked to do a story for Operation Lifesaver and they asked her to ride along in the cab of 4015 from Fairbanks to North Pole. Of course dad begged but the cab was full......

Anyway the consist left Fairbanks a little after 12:30pm and traveled to North Pole at a speedy 15 mph. The MAC was so completely dominating on the Eielson Extension that it really looked out of place.

The consist consisted of bi-levels and diner-coaches. GP40-2 3014 was along for HEP along with F40 #32 on the west bound end. Here is a list of the consist:

4015 SD70MAC
3014 GP40-2 HEP
bi 451
k 551
k 552
b 351
k 553
k 554
b 452-- Bis-car Aurora
32 F40

The consist arrived in North Pole around 3pm, and the crew tied up there until the 6pm activities. The dinner was a mixture of items, starting with salad and ending with some special Santa Chocolate boxes for desert. 4015 was taken off the train, run down to Chapedo's and the dinner train traveled to the Flood Control bridge where it parked on the trestle while dinner and activities were conducted. There was music and visiting the entire length of the train, and I heard nothing but praise for the whole activity and idea. (It's also re-election time here in North Pole.) Around 9:30pm, #32 led the train back to North Pole. (#32 looked extremely sharp in ARR colors! #32 has an 800Kw HEP and cab controls only). We arrived back at North Pole around 10pm. The train departed for Fairbanks a little after 11pm. It was a moonless, cloudy night and dark as tar.
Overall, it was quite the PR. ARR, Alyeska, Williams Refinery and the City of North Pole did an awesome job. This was the first passenger train on the Eielson branch since 1985 when a troop train went to Eieslon for an exercise.

Additionally, here is my daughter Sara's corresponding story that she wrote for high school newspaper:

Swaying in sync with the 415,000-pound Spirit of North Pole locomotive makes it hard to believe that such a huge machine can keep its balance while gliding along the tiny tracks as they disappear underneath. The power of four thousand horses pull over 750 tons of train cars. Yet inside, thanks to the WhisperCab, the rumble of the engine is surprisingly quiet. A beautiful view is witnessed throughout the ride from the Alaska Railroad yard on Phillips Field Road in Fairbanks to the Terry Miller Memorial Park in North Pole where, in a few hours, passengers will board the train for a ride to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the City of North Pole.

A whole new perspective is gained while riding 15 feet above the ground. Cars racing to beat the train as it approaches the crossings, children playing on the sides of streets near the tracks, and the massive amount of weight coming down the track behind you are all part of the engineer's view.

Each day two 6,913-ton trains with two locomotives and 66 cars regularly pass through North pole. However, they do not have a set schedule. They are loaded with jet fuel from the Williams Alaska Petroleum refinery.

The train crossing near the refinery is said to be one of the worst places around for people trying to beat the train across the tracks. Another problem for the engineer is kids crossing the tracks on foot near the baseball field at North Pole Middle School as they walk home from school. There are stories about scrap wood and metal sculptures being built in the center of the tracks, which produces a very serious problem for the engineer.

One of the major decisions an engineer has to make before the engine rolls out of the train yard is, in case of emergency, will an emergency brake be attempted. In good weather an emergency brake could be possible but in the winter the brakes may be covered with ice, thus complicating and slowing the braking process. If he attempts an emergency brake, he risks the train not stopping in time which could cause a derailment damaging millions of dollars of equipment and the possible injury to passengers. The engineer's only other option is to witness the ensuing tragedy to those who endanger themselves by not heeding the warnings to stay off the tracks when a train is at the crossing. Train safety is everyone's responsibility.

These are serious train safety problems and should not be taken lightly. Locomotives and the cars they pull aid our lives in many ways. When people are not responsible and do not heed warnings to stay off the tracks and not stop on the tracks, accidents can occur. If we all use common sense and follow the warnings, needless tragedies can be avoided.



© 2003 Art Chase