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Fortunately, all trains on the line managed to stop safely. Operations were suspended until track integrity could be checked. Damage to the mainline were widespread. Hugh land/snow slides had warped and/or buried rails. Some sections of the railroad subsided during the prolonged shaking. "Forty seven miles of the main line, plus five miles of side tracks were rendered unsafe for service due to severe subsidence and failure of the sub grade. Thirty seven miles of main line track plus seven miles of side tracks and yard tracks were exposed to tidal erosion due to tectonic subsidence. Approximately four miles of rail were damaged by bending and kinking under compression. In bridges alone, 567 spans of wood trestles were badly damaged or totally destroyed and although no steel bridges were lost, 34 required major repair work in order to make them safe for traffic." [5]
 

bent rails at Turnagain Arm

Photo from the Earth Science Photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey Library
Typical damage to wooden bridges south of Portage. "The rails in this approach to a railroad bridge near the head of Turnagain Arm were torn from their ties and buckled laterally by channelward movement of the river banks during the earthquake. The bridge was also compressed and developed a hump from vertical buckling." [1]
 
"The rails were buckled by lateral movement of the embankment fill toward an underlying culvert, which had collapsed." [1]
lateral movement

Photo from the Earth Science Photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey Library
 
bent rails "The two steel rails showed the same evidence of land spreading. Sometimes they ballooned out, some turned in or they would both curve out, taking ties with them; other times leaving the ties frozen in place" [5]
 
"The earthquake shifted the steel trusses of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad bridge near Round Island from 1 to 2 feet. This view shows one of the displaced trusses, which pounded against an adjacent steel girder span. The girder span was moved to the right, its concrete pedestal was rotated, and the girder span almost fell into the river. Note the shortening indicated by buckling of the guardrail." [1]
bridge

Photo from the Earth Science Photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey Library
"Under this compression, our wood bridges failed and took on appearances that were not within our design standards. One bridge jacknifed several feet into the air looking much like an A-frame cabin. Other longer trestles took on a long cambered arch appearance as the spreading soil pushed the ground up in the middle of river channels, thereby raising the middle of our bridges." [5] Bowed Bridge
Steinbrugge Collection, Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California, Berkeley 4/4/64
Near Portage
Steinbrugge Collection, Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California, Berkeley
Twisted rails! Notice ties still in place in frozen ballast.
When the ground level dropped, saltwater flooded low lying areas. The spruce forest quickly deteriorated and died leaving behind a ghost forest.  Ghost Forest
John Combs

 
 
 

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The information on this page was last updated November 27, 1998

© 1998 John Combs unless otherwise noted