2002 News Archive
(January-June)
 
Status of the newest MATI acquisitions - 6/27/02
Patrick Durand
Notice to train watchers!  Keep an eye pealed on the south side of the track at MP 162.5 of the Alaska Railroad for an occasional glimpse of two rare birds.

GE 80 ton former USAF 1604 was sighted pulling an Alaska RR High Cube Troop Sleeper Box and an Alaska RR engineering Troop Kitchen Box car on trackage belonging to the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry on June 22 and 23.   Observers noted this is probably the shortest short line museum railroad in the country, about 120 ft long at present.   That did not diminish the enthusiasm of Museum volunteers and supporters who were on hand to see the first MATI train under power.    This all happened during the celebration of the Alaska Transportation Expo at the Museum north of Wasilla.

On Saturday  volunteers Pat Durand and Bob Niles worked out the safety issues for operating #1604 in conjunction with the show.    The tractor show parade route had been established right next to the display track where the locomotive is stored.   An inspection of 1604 revealed she was ready to be put back in service after nearly two years in storage.    With hopes that the three 12 volt cat batteries were still holding a charge the start button was pushed and then the fun began.   The two Cummins 300 HP engines came to life and over the next 4 hours, brake tests and some tentative moves were made while "the batteries were charged".

On Sunday, Frank Dewey, ARR engineer and former military railroader, joined the crew.  An inspection of MRS1 #1718 revealed only good news.   The engine was rolled over in preparation for starting.   Battery connections  were cleaned and while there was enough power for the fuel pump and lights, there was not enough reserve to crank the engine.   A 32 volt battery charger was received with the locomotive but it requires 220 volt 13 AMP service.   The intention  is to wire up the charger and have another start up attempt in a few weeks.

Under Engineer Dewey's artful hand #1604 was operated on the short line for several hours.   Many of the Antique Power Club members visited the cab and looked under the hood at the "heavy iron" participant in their show. Several of the Museum RR volunteers were gratified to see their efforts at laying track for the Museum were finally being rewarded.   The call came out, " Let's lay some more track!"

Thanks to all those volunteers, members and contributors who have made railroading at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry finally come alive.

Thank them best by becoming a member of the Museum and supporting the continuing effort.
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Mat-Su rail spur faces opposition - 6/27/02
Alaska Journal of Commerce
A decade-old study has been dusted off to help define rail and highway corridors to the new port at Point MacKenzie.

In 1992, the concept of new transportation links to Point MacKenzie from various parts of the Matanuska Valley drew little support and much protest. Reintroduced recently, the idea is meeting a similar reception.

[See story]

Railroad spends $52 million on capital projects this year - 6/25/02
Alaska Journal of Commerce
More than $52 million in capital improvements are planned by the Alaska Railroad Corp. this year with much of the work this summer.

The railroad also added $20 million to its coffers June 10 with an appropriation from the U.S. Department of Transportation, money secured by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

That brings to $288 million the railroad has received since 1996 for improvements to the state-owned railroad, said Patrick Flynn, Alaska Railroad's public affairs officer.

[See story]

$20 million on track for railroad - 6/15/02
Anchorage Daily News
The federal government has freed up $20 million for track upgrades this year along the Alaska Railroad.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens secured the money in the 2002 Department of Transportation budget, and Stevens announced Monday that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta had released the funds.

"These funds are critical to replacing old rail and rail ties, which will improve safety and further modernize our railroad infrastructure," Stevens said.

[See story]

Williams to drive debt down $3 billion - 6/1/02
Anchorage Daily News
Williams Cos. plans to issue more stock, sell more assets and make additional cuts in expenses in an effort to improve its finances by more than $3 billion over the next year.

The announcement Tuesday comes less than a week after the energy trading company said it was considering several options to strengthen its balance sheet as Moody's Investors Service considers downgrading $13 billion of its debt.
 

[See story]

Alaska's hot, dry weather brings early spate of fires - 5/21/02
USA Today
A blaze near the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve was curtained off Monday by eight smokejumpers after consuming about ten acres. A power line might have been the cause of that blaze, Williams said.  The blaze was close enough to the Alaska Railroad to prevent trains from passing Sunday night.

[See story]

Alaska Railroad resuming service - 5/17/02
Alaska Railroad Corporation Press Release
Several days of effort of Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) work crews, coupled with receding waters from the ice-jammed and flooded Susitna river, will pay off today with the resumption of service between Chase and Sherman.  The continued presence of ice in the river means ARRC crews will continue monitoring the situation.

In the meantime the Denali Star passenger trains, which provide service from Anchorage to Fairbanks and Fairbanks to Anchorage, are running today.  Additionally, the Hurricane turn, which provides the primary means of access to residents along this rural stretch of track, will run as scheduled today.

A freight backlog caused by the track closure will result in longer and more frequent freight trains for the next day or two.

Other operations, such as passenger service to Seward and Whittier and gravel trains from Palmer to Anchorage, remain on schedule.

Photos of the flooding and the damage are available on ARRC's web site at www.AlaskaRailroad.com.
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Plans call for lowering Whittier tunnel fees - 5/16/02
Kenai Peninsula Online
The state plans to reduce the cost of driving through the Whittier Tunnel after residents complained the toll was discouraging visitors and unfair to them.

The state plans to cut the round-trip toll from $15 to $12 for vehicles beginning June 8. Motor homes or vehicles pulling boats would pay $20 -- half the current price. Buying a book of tickets or a season pass will reduce the cost even further.

[See story]

Company reviews North Pole for possible petrochemical plant - 5/16/02
Kenai Peninsula Online
North Pole is one of two locations under consideration by Williams Companies for a plant that could turn North Slope natural gas into plastics if a gas line is built.

The company said it's considering locations for a billion-dollar petrochemical plant that would use gas to manufacture pellets for plastic goods.

[See story]

Washed-out tracks delay first passenger trains - 5/15/02
Anchorage Daily News
Today was supposed to be the day the first Alaska Railroad passenger trains of the season rolled between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Both of today's scheduled northbound and southbound Denali Star trains are canceled, however, because of a washout Tuesday along the Susitna River. 

About 20 rail lengths of track are damaged at Mile 239 north of Talkeetna, said railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn. A northbound freight train had to return to Anchorage on Tuesday, he said. Arrangements were being made with the cargo's owners for alternate transport.

The railroad hopes to repair the damage today and reopen the track by early Thursday, Flynn said. Passengers with tickets on today's trains should call reservations in Anchorage at 265-2494 or 1-800-544-0552. 
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Amtrak rentals/Whittier tunnel fees - 5/14/02
Submitted anonymously
The Alaska Railroad has leased two Amtrak F40PH units for the summer passenger season.  They went on the barge last week, ETA Whittier 5/15.

The state, in its infinite wisdom, has reduced the toll through our tunnel because the Whittidiots were complaining it was
too high.  Last year the tolls collected covered only 40% of the operating cost with no contribution at all to debt service on the $80 million cost.  Even at 4.5% that's 10,000 per day!
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Railroad finishes fuel tank car renovations - 5/14/02
Alaska Journal of Commerce
Major repairs on wheels and suspension systems have been completed on most fuel cars that use the Alaska Railroad -- part of a process that is helping Alaska beat the national average for rail accidents.

Alaska Railroad Corp. officials say the overhaul work, performed during the last two years, will greatly reduce the risk of derailment since the fuel tank cars now will ride more smoothly along the rail line.

Nearly three quarters of fuel tank cars in Alaska underwent major repairs last summer on wheel and suspension systems. GATX Corp. spent more than $825,000 to repair its entire fleet of 275 tank cars. The Chicago based company leases fuel cars to Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.

Williams Alaska leases another 134 fuel-tank cars owned by General Electric Railcar Services Corp.

A nine-worker crew from Gunderson Rail Services Inc., a Springfield, Ore.-based contractor, spent most of April replacing wheels, axles and "trucks," the assemblies that hold the wheels.

The work was completed April 25, said Mike Schmidt, Gunderson Rail Services manager of shop services.

"These should be maintenance-free for about 10 years," Schmidt said.

Cost of the work was not disclosed. Part of the work consisted of fitting wedges, which act as shock absorbers, into the trucks. The wedges provide a dampening effect over bumps and keep the wheels from bouncing off the track and derailing a train, Alaska Railroad officials said.

The Alaska Railroad inspected the fuel tank cars in 2000 and found that many of them needed repair or replacement. Maintenance on the fuel tank cars is regulated and required by the federal government.

Depending on the conditions of the track, wheels on fuel cars last from 200,000 to 250,000 miles, according to railroad officials.

Fuel shipped from the Williams North Pole refinery to Anchorage averages about 100 rail cars a day. The bulk of the rail cars -- some 80 a day -- carry jet fuel for use at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The Alaska Railroad last year set daily, weekly, monthly and annual records moving more than 710 million gallons of fuel along its rail line without incident.

In addition to maintenance on the fuel tank cars, the railroad has made major track improvements along its rail line in the past year, including new track and switches and the resurfacing of some 242 miles of track, according to the railroad.

In all operations, the railroad reported 1.5 accidents per million train miles in 2001, about the same as in 2000. That compares with a national average of 3.8 accidents per million train miles.

The Alaska Railroad has historically averaged more than four accidents per million train miles.

During 1999, the Alaska Railroad had two derailments that resulted in major fuel spills at Canyon and at Gold Creek, where 15 cars left the track, five of them spilling more than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel.

The railroad blamed the Gold Creek spill on a buildup of ice and snow on a manual track switch.

Fuel spills in 1999 cost the railroad nearly $13 million to clean up.

The Alaska Railroad was reimbursed for most of the cleanup cost with grants from the federal government, according to the railroad's recently released annual report.
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Railroad's suspension repairs get fuel cars back on track - 5/14/02
Anchorage Daily News
OVERHAUL: Officials say recently completed work reduces risk of derailment. 

Major repairs on the wheels and suspension systems of most fuel cars that use the Alaska Railroad have been completed.

The overhaul work is part of a process that is helping Alaska beat the national average for rail accidents. Railroad officials said the work will greatly reduce the risk of derailment since the fuel tank cars now will ride more smoothly.

Nearly three-quarters of fuel tank cars in Alaska underwent major repairs last summer on wheel and suspension systems. 

[See story]

Alaska Railroad locomotive leaks diesel into rail yard - 5/14/02
Anchorage Daily News
An Alaska Railroad locomotive leaked about 1,300 gallons of diesel in the Seward rail yard Monday afternoon, the railroad said. Patrick Flynn, railroad spokesman, said the leak was discovered by a crew about 2:30 p.m. The locomotive was scheduled to haul freight to Anchorage but was left in place to stop the leak and begin cleanup.  "All fuel went into the gravel," Flynn said. "It appears there's no significant environmental risk at this time.  "It appears a fuel filter failed, but it was unknown Monday evening how that happened.
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Usibelli says it will proceed with layoffs - 5/3/02
Anchorage Daily News
Fairbanks -- Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. said it has not been able to reach a contract agreement with a South Korea power company and, as a result, will proceed with the planned layoff of one-third of its work force this month.

By the end of May the mine will cut about 30 people from its payroll, company officials told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

[See story]

Westours to get new railcars? - 5/1/02
Submitted anonymously
[The latest gossip is] Westours is having new cars made as tall as RCI and a bit longer. No real confirmation though. Their fleet is getting quite old and maintenance is getting well [extensive].
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Alaska Railroad appreciation day - 5/1/02
Marty Quaas posting on the Arrfriends Yahoo! Group
This Saturday, May 4th the Alaska Railroad will be holding their Railroad Appreciation Day in Anchorage.  The activities will start at 11 AM and continue until 4 PM at the Anchorage Depot.  There will be train rides and many railroad displays for all to see with railroad employees standing by to answer your questions.  There will be an Operation Life Saver display in the main depot.  Stop by the Baggage Annex to visit Mooselip and the other Model Railroad Displays.

Next week, May 11, the Railroad Appreciation Day will be in Fairbanks.
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ARR train news - 5/1/02
Marty Quaas posting on the Arrfriends Yahoo! Group
The first gravel train of the season ran yesterday, April 29th.  It's scheduled to depart Anchorage at 4:00 which will put it back through Anchorage around 12:00 (yesterday it passed by the depot at about 13:00).  Today's power is 4010 and 4002.

Seward Coal will be heading north from Seward around 4:00 PM today with 4006, 4011, and 4013.  Get your photo's now of this train before it is discontinued for an unknown amount of time on/or around the 15th May.

There are a couple work trains working the double track projects between Palmer Junction and South Anchorage so be on the lookout for GP's and the new Plow Cars on those trains.

And of course the north bound Fox is scheduled for a 17:30 departure from Anchorage (power unknown at this time).

The rebuild of the P 30, Power Car in an EB body, now riding on Blomberg Trucks.  The shop has been dragging its feet, so it looks like May 15.  Gotta have it about then for the passenger train, but the ARR wants to do some curve testing first, so watch for this. 
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Gold Creek fuel cleanup bogs down - 4/26/02
Anchorage Daily News
The Alaska Railroad's attempts to clean up a 2-year-old, 120,000-gallon fuel spill at Gold Creek aren't working, and the line has told state environmental officials it wants to stop trying.

Instead, the railroad's consultants say, the jet fuel buried in the soil north of Talkeetna should be monitored for 50 years or longer. Even if fuel-contaminated groundwater were to reach the nearby Susitna River and its salmon-rich environment, it likely would be so diluted that it wouldn't damage the river or harm any people, the railroad's experts say.

[See story]

Alaska Railroad receives first on-line reservation - 4/26/02
Alaska Railroad Corporation Press Release
The Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) received its first on-line booking using its new RailRes software yesterday. ARRCıs new reservations system, purchased from UK-based Anite Travel Systems (www.anitesystems.co.uk), has been phased in over the past several months with the Internet portion going Œliveı this week. The new system, structured to grow  and adapt aschanges are needed, now accepts on-line reservations for rail travel.

³Weıre very excited,² said Willow Peyton, ARRC Senior Business Systems Analyst, ³A lot of people have put in a lot of hours to make this happen, so itıs gratifying to see this new feature in service.²

Future improvements to the on-line booking system will allow web users to not only book rail travel on-line, but also hotel and tour packages offered by the Alaska Railroad in partnership with local businesses.

³This represents an important step in providing information and services to potential Alaska visitors,² commented Steve Silverstein, ARRC VP for Markets, Sales & Service. ³Now travelers from around the world can incorporate the Alaska Railroad into planning their trip of a lifetime with a few simple clicks.²

Internet users may make reservations on the Alaska Railroadıs web site at: www.alaskarailroad.com/passenger/index.html
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UTU response to Alaska Journal of Commerce's caboose article - 4/22/02
UTU response submitted by Mike Weatherell
The following is the UTU response to the article that was published in the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

          On Monday, April 8, the Anchorage Daily News published an article from the Alaska Journal of Commerce reporting the Alaska Railroad's plan to phase out the use of cabooses and the employees who staff them. The article, which relied exclusively on quotes from Railroad's management, left a number of false impressions, and is inconsistent with earlier Railroad press statements.

          Following the Gold Creek derailment, Bill Sheffield, then-CEO of the Railroad, along with Ernie Piper, who was quoted extensively in Monday's article, went to Juneau and placated the Legislature by promising to put cabooses on fuel trains. See press reports from January 2000 and January 2001, attached. They made good on their promise and there have been no derailments of fuel trains with cabooses. The one derailment we are aware of since then was a train without a caboose. Despite what the article says about the planned future technology which the Railroad will utilize to ensure and enhance safety, the fact is that the technology being utilized by the Railroad right now is the same technology that was in place at the time of the Gold Creek derailment. Let me say that again so that it is fully understood. The technology being used by the Railroad now is not materially or substantially different than the technology in place in the year 2000 when the Gold Creek derailment took place. It is the same. Based on that alone, the Railroad's decision to phase out cabooses is, essentially, a decision to accept increased levels of risk in return for decreased operating costs. Unfortunately, the risk is not only to the Railroad, but to the general public. The primary hazardous substance being transported is fuel, and if it is spilled, it affects rail belt communities and waterways by putting hydrocarbons in the water table and in the rivers. Hazardous waste is harmful to both fish and people.

          We have been told by the Alaska Railroad that with respect to ton miles traveled, Alaska has the highest percentage dedicated to hazardous materials of any railroad in the country. The argument that other railroads have seen fit to dispense with cabooses should be considered in the context of the risks which those railroads faced when they did it. If we have more ton miles of hazardous materials than any other railroad in the country, it makes sense that we would be more cautious about removing cabooses. Again, since the cabooses went back on the fuel trains, there have been no fuel train derailments.

          The article states that the Railroad has a $60 million program to replace 694 manual switches. That is not how we understand the program. Our understanding is that the $60 million will be spent to create new sidings every 20 miles along the track corridor, and the sidings will be operated with automated switches. At present, the Railroad has exactly one siding which is operated with automatic switches. The siding is at Hurricane and is not fully reliable. Employees who utilize the switch have stated that the amount of time when the switch is not functioning properly is between 40-60 percent. None of the employees of the Alaska Railroad would bet their future on automated switches. 

          The Railroad analogized cabooses to the canary in the coal mine. We presume that the canaries were not removed from the coal mines until the technology that replaced them was installed and reliable. Our concern about the Railroad's proposed elimination of cabooses is that the technology which will effectively replace a caboose is neither installed nor reliable. Again, removing the caboose simply increases risks. We understood after Gold Creek that there really wasn't an acceptable level of risk when it comes to dumping fuel into the salmon streams. What's different now?

          Why does a caboose make a train more safe? The Railroad has already acknowledged that it adds additional sight and sound monitoring to the traveling train. Additionally, Railroad employees will tell you that sense of smell can be critical. Railroad employees often smell trouble before they see it or hear it.

          The Railroad stated in the April 8th article that it currently uses cabooses on its work trains and on long gravel trains where an extra set of eyes and ears is preferred for monitoring the cars ahead. A long gravel train is in the neighborhood of 75 cars and stretches about 4500 feet. In current negotiations, the Railroad has indicated its intent to run fuel trains as much as a mile long with no cabooses. Apparently, an extra set of eyes and ears in a caboose is not preferred in those situations. Obviously, a gravel train derailment is a safety issue, but it's not the kind of environmental disaster we had at Gold Creek.

          Historically, a caboose was required under labor agreement provisions between the ARRC and the Railroad Union. That is no longer the case. The Railroad Union's contract does not require the use of a caboose on any train. The contract does establish a crew consist which varies from train to train, and the Union has expressed a willingness to reduce the mandatory crew size (3) on those trains where it has been required if it is done over time and if current employees receive adequate protections. The parties are at impasse over wages and benefits and mediation is planned. In the meantime, to the extent the Railroad is asserting that the elimination of cabooses and the reduction of railroad crews can take place in the immediate future with no decrease in safety, the Union believes, very strongly, that it is simply not true. In Alaska, crew size and cabooses mean safety. It should not take another Gold Creek disaster before this is fully and completely understood. And just because the leadership and control of the Alaska Railroad has changed, it should not be forgotten.
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Railroad officials debating building second set of tracks - 4/12/02
MS NBC News
Changes are coming down the tracks for the Alaska Railroad. Representatives from the Alaska Railroad met Thursday night with people who live along the tracks and the inlet. They proposed some of the railroad's new plans to alleviate rail traffic in that area. One of the ideas is to build a second track. 

A louder wake-up call may be in store for the more than 7,000 people who live along the stretch of track between the Anchorage rail yard and the Minnesota Drive and Tudor Road intersection. 

Although the rails are quiet now, in the summer, rail traffic increases, creating more congestion and more noise. That's why rail officials says some action needs to be taken. 

The Alaska Railroad is considering several projects designed to alleviate traffic in the area, including building a second track. 

"We have several different kinds of freight traffic along this part of the line as well as passenger traffic, (like) gravel, coal and interline traffic, which is rail-barge service from down in the Lower 48," said Pat Flynn with the Alaska Railroad. 

The four-mile stretch along the inlet is one of Alaska Railroad's busiest. Flynn said passenger traffic is expected to increase once the new airport rail terminal is complete in the fall of 2002. 

When that happens, Flynn said the already busy rails would back up, causing trains to stop and wait to pass, which means more noise. 

"When that happens, slack between the cars is taken up. You get sort of a bang, bang, bang as they slow down and then as they leave again you sort of hear the chunk, chunk, chunk," Flynn said. 

People who live along the track accept the noise, but accepting a second track is a different story. 

"What we would be concerned is if they took too much of the land and made it not as attractive as it is now. That would be my main concern," said Gail Barnes, who lives along the track. 

The rail officials understand the concerns. They said as long as the railroad remains a part of the neighborhood, they will try to be good neighbors--neighbors who are quiet. 

The project is only in the preliminary stages right now. Rail officials are taking into consideration how people who live in the area feel about a second track before making any decisions. 

Other options include building a turnout, where trains could pull over and wait until it was their turn to pass. Or they could leave the track the way it is and see what happens. 

Since the project is new, officials said they have no idea what will happen to the tracks or even when it will happen. 
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Railroad could lose millions from Usibelli - 4/8/02
Alaska Journal of Commerce by James MacPherson
If Usibelli Coal Mine loses its contract with South Korea-based Hyundai Merchant Marine, Alaska Railroad Corp.'s revenues would be cut by nearly $4 million annually, according to railroad projections.

Usibelli announced in late March that it is expecting up to a third of its 120-person work force to be laid off because it hasn't renewed a South Korean coal export contract, which represents nearly half of its 1.5 million ton annual production.

The contract expired at the end of 2001. If not renewed, layoffs could come as soon as May, Usibelli officials said.

[See story]

Whittier tunnel doesn't bring flood of visitors - 4/8/02
Kenai Peninsula Online
The road project through the Whittier tunnel began with big ambitions. But so far, visitor numbers haven't boomed.

Whittier locals blame the tunnel tolls, but state officials say tunnel operations already cost more than twice as much as the tolls bring in.

At $15 per round trip for passenger cars and $40 for motor homes, it's more than most people want to spend, said Matt Rowley, Whittier city manager.

''The results have been disastrous,'' he said.

[See story]

Railroad technology puts caboose into retirement home - 4/2/02
Alaska Journal of Commerce by James MacPherson
The end is near for the lowly caboose.

That little boxcar linked to the back of a freight train, used primarily as an observation platform for railroaders, has all but been replaced by modern technology.

The Alaska Railroad Corp. is one of the last railroads in the United States to use cabooses, but it is phasing out the cars as electronic monitoring equipment and automated switches are replacing the eyes, ears and muscle of trainmen.

[See story]

More power rumors - 4/2/02
Submitted by an anonymous source
Rumor being disseminated by some is that the railroad contacted EMD.  They proposed three possible units. 
  1. More SD70MAC's
  2. SD70I's
  3. F69PH's
  4. And the most interesting! GP69's updated GP60's. This is very unusual as EMD has not marketed any GP's in years.  I believe that there is still a need for 4-axle locomotives developing in the larger regionals and shortlines.

The weight of SD's and only older GP's that may soon not meet EPA standards. Also the lease market may need 4-axles for their fleets. Tax laws may be a reason also. Question, who would build them Boise? London, Mexico, SSI(F59/69) and Juniata are busy building SD's. Boise has and EMD license to build 4-axle to 3000hp.

The GP69 would have a 16-710G3 engine at 3800hp, a departure in that 9 usually means 12cyl. TIME WILL TELL. 
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New coaches and power - 3/29/02
Sunmitted by an anonymous source
The Alaska Railroad is currently shopping around for four more coaches. They need them due to the cruise ship bookings for the summer of 2003. The cruise companies asked for an additional 200 seats for the summer of 2003. The railroad may also be getting some more new power!  They are looking to buy four or six SD70s. These will be DC locomotives, not ACs, and will have 800KW HEP units. The railroad is looking to tag these on to a Union Pacific order, already placed with EMD.
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Usibelli may lay off third of workers - 3/26/02
Anchorage Daily News
Jeff Cornelius had told his wife, Linda, to quit her job as a bank accountant so the family could move from Fairbanks to Healy, where he works as a heavy equipment mechanic at Usibelli Coal Mine.

On Friday, Linda's last day at work, 36-year-old Cornelius found himself dealing with some sour news, the possible loss of his job.

Usibelli officials on Thursday told Cornelius and other employees to anticipate layoffs of up to a third of the 120-person work force because the company has not been able to renew a South Korea coal export contract. The contract accounts for about half of the company's 1.5 million-ton yearly production. 

[See story]

Stevens tries to ease land swap to straighten track - 3/19/02
By James MacPherson, Alaska Journal of Commerce reporter
When it comes to straightening track on the Alaska Railroad, construction is the easy part. Obtaining money and swapping land for right of way has been more difficult.

While Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has been a friend financially in obtaining funds for railroad operations, he now has introduced legislation to amend the Alaska Railroad Act of 1982 to make less onerous land exchanges that have put kinks in process of rail straightening.

[See story]

State may get funds, but not that fast train - 3/19/02
By James MacPherson, Alaska Journal of Commerce reporter
Alaska Railroad Corp. can't run ultra fast trains along its tracks now, and never intends to in the future.

Still, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, says the state-owned railroad is due a portion of the billions of dollars proposed annually for building networks of high-speed trains across the United States.

Stevens on March 5 introduced an Alaska-specific provision in the National Defense Interstate Rail Act, legislation that would provide $1.55 billion each year to develop high-speed rail corridors to lessen the United States' dependence on automobile and air travel.

[See story]

Train engine collides with SUV - 3/15/02
By Scott Christiansen - Fontiersman reporter
WASILLA -- A Wasilla man escaped serious injury Monday after an Alaska Railroad train engine hit the Suzuki Sidekick he was driving at the railroad crossing on Knik-Goose Bay Road -- just south of the intersection of the Parks Highway and Main Street.

According to a press release from the Wasilla Police Department, the Sidekick's driver, Sergei Fedotov, 61, of Wasilla, received minor injuries to one knee and declined medical attention. The Frontiersman left a message for Fedotov and Wasilla attorney Marvin Clark contacted the newspaper to say that Fedotov had no comment at this time.

The Wasilla PD release said Fedotov did not realize a train was approaching when he entered the crossing. Fedotov's car stopped on the tracks and apparently attempted to back up. At that point, according to police, the Sidekick stalled and Fedotov was unable to restart its engine. The train hit the front end of Fedotov's vehicle and pushed it off the tracks.

The train consisted of two diesel engines heading north. No cars were attached at the time. Although Alaska Railroad Corp. officials did not know at press time the exact speed of the train, the speed limit on that section of the rail line is 25 mph.

The accident was brought up at city hall when Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin gave her report to the city council at its meeting that night.

"The train won," Palin said.

"They always do," said council member Noel Lowe.

After the meeting Palin spoke briefly with the Frontiersman.

"Talk about a close call. This scares the crud out of me," Palin said.

There is plenty of evidence that the accident scared Fedotov as well.

"He had a standard transmission and I'm guessing that when he tried to put it in reverse he let the clutch out too fast," said Officer Ken Conn of the Wasilla PD, who interviewed Fedotov at the scene. The Sidekick's key was bent in an attempt to restart the car, according to Conn.

Alaska Railroad Corp. officials are conducting an investigation into the accident. ARRC security chief Dan Frerich said preliminary reports showed the crossing gates at Knik-Goose Bay Road were working properly Monday.

"We don't have anything that's inconsistent," Frerich said. "Everything tells us that the driver [Fedotov] drove onto the tracks before the gate came down and that he was stopped by traffic. That's when his vehicle stalled."

Railroad investigators use printed reports from the crossing gate's control box, which can be checked against a similar record on board the locomotive that keeps track of the train's speed and actions of the train engineers -- such as blowing the whistle or applying brakes. When necessary, railroadofficers also use conventional surveying methods to investigate accidents,
according to Frerich.

Crossing gate control boxes use sensors that are built into the rail line todetermine the train's speed. It takes seven seconds for the gate to come down and the control box has the gate lowered 20 seconds before the train enters the crossing, no matter how fast the train is going, according to Frerich. All of this worked according to specifications, Frerich said, including the bells and flashing lights on the gate.

Traffic is often backed up at the intersection of Knik-Goose Bay Road/Main Street and the Parks Highway. Conn called it the busiest intersection in Wasilla. But Conn isn't convinced Fedotov was stopped by heavy traffic -- most area drivers seem to treat the railroad crossings with caution. Fedotov may have simply driven underneath the first gate as the gates were coming
down.

"Most of the time when I'm at that intersection people are really good about giving you space," Conn said. "People are good about obeying the no-stopping-on-the-tracks law."

The accident was the first collision at an ARRC at-grade crossing this year, according to Frerich. ARRC records showed no collisions at crossings in 2001, Frerich said, and 22 collisions at crossings statewide over the last five years, with one fatality.

The Palin administration and the city council took up the topic about two years ago and the city has spent $31,000 on a railroad relocation study, which was completed in February.

"Our whole premise for the study has been the issue of safety -- not so much the economic development issues, but the safety issues," Palin said. "I think people know the city is on the right track. People do want the tracks moved, but they don't want them to be in their back yard."

Of 22 crossing accidents over the last five years, only two have been in the Mat-Su area, according to Frerich. Mat-Su has 11 at-grade crossings -- counting from the Glenn Highway crossing on the Palmer Hay Flats to South Church Road at Wasilla's west end, according to the study.

There is change on the way whether the railroad adopts a relocation plan or not.

The Glenn Highway crossing will be eliminated with the construction of the Glenn-Parks Highway Interchange project, which state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials have said will be finished by 2005.

The Palmer-Wasilla Highway extension -- also a DOT project -- includes a bridge over the tracks just south of the Palmer-Wasilla and Parks intersection.

That project should lighten traffic at the Knik-Goose Bay crossing. Members of the public and the contracting engineer for the study recommended that Wasilla officials ask the Mat-Su Borough School District require all school buses to use the new route instead of the Knik-Goose Bay crossing.

Many of the crossings in the Wasilla-funded study are outside city limits, as are parts of all five potential routes. Palin said that's an example of Wasilla taking the lead on an issue that affects everyone in the Valley.

Still, both DOT and ARRC are state entities and Wasilla has no direct power over either of them. When asked, Palin couldn't predict how soon at-grade crossings might be eliminated. She simply acknowledged that it's a difficult question.

"The state government is so bureaucratic, with so many layers of bureaucracy," Palin said. "Even as a mayor, I find it hard to figure out who to call to find out the status of any given project."
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Naphtha sales good for bottom line at Williams, railroad - 3/12/02
By James MacPherson, Alaska Journal of Commerce reporter
As far as petroleum products go, naphtha is more like rump roast than filet mignon.

But the by-product of gasoline production accounted for about a sixth of the 31,000 rail cars of fuel shipped last year from Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.'s North Pole refinery, according to the Alaska Railroad Corp.

Joe Hufman, Williams' manager of Alaska terminals in Anchorage, said his company topped off 11 tanker ships with naphtha last year bound for Asia from the Port of Anchorage.

It was the largest annual export of naphtha for the company, Hufman said.

"In prior years we've had four to six ships, and we're hoping for six or seven this year, at least," Hufman said.

The first ship of the year, M/T Hightide, was slated to be in port March 8.  It will be filled with 290,000 barrels, or about 12.2 million gallons, of naphtha, Hufman said.

Williams for the past month has sent 527 tanker cars from its North Pole refinery to the company's fuel storage facilities near the Port of Anchorage in preparation for the fuel tanker, Hufman said.

"It takes anywhere from 25 to 28 days to get the product in place, and about 24 hours to fill a tanker," Hufman said.

Williams' sole naphtha customer is Itochu Corp., a giant Japanese company that, among other things, is part owner of a plant in the Philippines that uses the liquid hydrocarbon for production of chemicals called monomers, which in turn are converted into resins for the manufacturing of various plastic products.

"It's not your high-end cut, not your premium," Hufman said of naphtha. "It helps in the production of something else. It's not the end product necessarily."

Naphtha also is used for fuel and cleaning solvents, but the domestic market is lean. Without its large Japanese customer, or any other buyer, Williams would pump the naphtha back into its crude oil supply, Hufman said

Jet fuel is made by blending naphtha, gasoline and kerosene.

"If nobody buys it, it goes right back into the pipeline," Hufman said.

Pat Flynn, spokesman for the Alaska Railroad, said he's glad that doesn't happen, because as far as the railroad is concerned, a full fuel tanker car means revenue, whatever is in it.

Some 711 million gallons of petroleum products were moved along rail from Williams' North Pole refinery to Anchorage last year, a sixth of it being naphtha.

Petroleum makes up most of the freight revenue for the railroad, about $35.7 million last year. Most of the petroleum product, about 1.7 million gallons a day, is jet fuel used at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Jet fuel is followed by diesel, which is transferred by barges to be used in the Bush for home heating and electrical generation.

The railroad saw a spike in freight revenues thanks to its naphtha shipments.

"Every little bit helps, and naphtha was a big little bit, for sure," Flynn said.

Fuel shipped from Williams' North Pole refinery to Anchorage averaged more than 100 rail cars a day for July and August, the most ever, Flynn said. Naphtha contributed greatly to the mix, as two tankers, requiring more than 500 rail cars each, were loaded in those months.

The railroad owns about 400 fuel cars, which are either coming to or from Anchorage, or being unloaded or loaded -- all at the same time.

Naphtha prices are generally weak, fetching far below crude oil prices on world markets.

But Hufman said naphtha, called gasoline blend stock by refineries, is worthwhile to his company's bottom line, so long as there remains a market.

"The margins are pretty decent," Hufman said. "It started out as a spot sale but now it's turned into a regular market."

Williams hasn't always made money selling naphtha, but kept shipping the product to keep its buyer happy, with hopes of rebounding prices.

"There have been times we shipped it just to keep our customer," Hufman said.

Naphtha is one of the few products Alaska supplies to world markets, Hufman said.

"Naphtha is something that is actually made in Alaska and exported out," Hufman said. "There is a good market now and we're planning on doing this for a long time."
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Movie shoot nixed - 3/7/02
By John Combs
Back in February, a movie company had chartered a special train to and from a remote shoot site.  That deal was canceled on account of too much expense to shoot in Alaska.  Supposedly the movie was the next James Bond film.
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Railroad straightens first three miles of track to Valley - 3/7/02
By James MacPherson, Alaska Journal of Commerce reporter
The Alaska Railroad Corp. last month completed its realignment of about three miles of track on Elmendorf Air Force Base, the first in a series of line improvements between Anchorage and Wasilla that will cost a total of $78 million.

The new alignment between miles 118 and 121 of the railroad moves the track 3,000 feet further east of the east-west runway at Elmendorf to alleviate safety concerns the U.S. Air Force had with the line's location, according to Patrick Flynn, Alaska Railroad spokesman.

A new passenger main track was added, as was a new line for freight in the three-mile stretch. The old track will be pulled up by April, according to Flynn.

Construction went smoothly, with minimal traffic delays, Flynn said. The line is made of continuously welded rail designed to lessen "clickity-clack" noise, he said.

The state-owned railroad began construction last spring on the project that will straighten some 70 curves on the Anchorage-to-Wasilla line. Some road crossings along the track also will be improved for increased safety, according to the railroad.

Most of the funding for the $78 million project comes from the Federal Railroad Administration, with the railroad matching about 20 percent of the overall cost, Flynn said.

Construction will be done in three phases: Anchorage to Eagle River Bridge; Eagle River to Knik River; and Knik River to Wasilla.

The railroad, along with Anchorage-based Wilder Construction Co., began work last April on the first phase of the project, a 10.5-mile stretch from the north end of the Anchorage Rail Yard to the Eagle River Bridge. That phase is scheduled for completion next year, Flynn said.

When all three phases are completed in 2004, railroad officials say the travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla will drop from 90 minutes to just under an hour. Trains should be able to maintain speeds of about 50 mph instead of 20-25 mph, Flynn said

Most of the curves along the line will be reduced from 10 degrees to 2 degrees.

The shorter travel times and reduced track curvature will also reduce wear and tear on the trains, according to the railroad.

The Anchorage-to-Wasilla track is the most meandering leg of the 471-mile railroad, and has had the highest number of derailments over the years.

Other improvements along the line include building roads over or under the tracks, instead of at-grade, or level with the road.
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Recently retired freight - 3/6/02
By John Combs
Here is a list of item the Alaska Railroad recently retired:

PV Denali  1930 
Gallery coaches 601 & 02 1956 
Power Cars: P6, P12 & P14
GP9s 1802 and 1806
? 3000E 
Troop Kitchen 9043 
Caboose 1776
Boxes: 10438, 585, 731 
Aid dump 15779
Company service, type ??901401, 901545, 901585, 912539
002E flat
12524 flat
662E flat
630E flat
97204 flat
97403 flat
7107 hopper
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Invitation to bid on Caboose 1776 - 3/4/02
Based on an email from Richard Wise
In Sunday's paper, there was an "invitation to bid" on caboose 1776. Here's some links to it:

http://classifieds.adn.com/class/ads/0,3256,sunday-legals-0,00.html

http://www.akrr.com/corporate/Procurement/solicitations/15-10458.pdf

ALASKA RAILROAD CORPORATION (ARRC) INVITATION to BID 02-002 SURPLUS SALE: ARR 1776 CABOOSE The Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) is soliciting bids from interested concerns for Surplus Sale: ARR 1776 Caboose Bids will be accepted until 10:00 AM Local Time March 18, 2002. ARRC is an equal opportunity corporation who encourages the utilization of small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. To receive a copy of this offer please contact Alaska Railroad Purchasing & Materials, (907)  265-2630 This bid document is also available on the Internet under www.akrr.com "Corporate Information" then Contracts/Purchasing then "Solicitations". Pub: March 3, 4, 5, 2002 

Proposed rail, ferry link hotly opposed - 2/27/02
Anchorage Daily News
State Sen. Jerry Ward proposes to help solve the state ferry system's budget problems by coupling it with the Alaska Railroad and giving the new system 500,000 acres of state land.

But neither ferry system nor railroad officials like the idea.

Bill O'Leary, vice president of finance for the Alaska Railroad Corp., told the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday the bill could spell disaster for the railroad and the Alaska businesses it serves.

[See story]

Passenger car 208 spotted in Seattle - 2/25/02
Steve Noland our ever vigilant Northwest coast correspondent
Alaska Railroad passenger car 208 spotted at north end Stacy/SIG 2/24/02.

No picture available right now.  I'll be looking Monday to see if it gets moved so I can get a picture.
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Tiny railbelt town big on detail - 2/16/02
Anchorage Daily News
All is not as it seems in the little railroad town of Mooselip. And we mean little. So little that, in Mooselip, a dog is the size of a grain of rice.

Sure, there are the usual scenes you'd expect of Anytown, USA. Kids getting dropped off by the school bus, women hanging laundry to dry, a wedding party pouring out of a church, a group of Boy Scouts taking a hike, a man with a wheelbarrow and a shovel tidying up after a horse. But what's that up on the roof of city hall? Ladies in skimpy bathing suits lying about on chaise lounges? What's going on?

[See story]

An unsolicited editorial regarding web site submissions - 2/15/02
Patrick J. Durand
I do hereby commend John Combs as the "Official Catalyst of Alaska Railroad History".   For years I have dreamed of a vehicle with synergy that would collect, collate, document and publish history on the Alaska Railroad for the serious historian, model builder, and railfan.   There are collections, there are museums, there are books, there are minds packed with endless minutia, and there have been attempts to share information, but they never had a home of synergy until John Combs created it!

When the photos of Albert Bailey started appearing, and Jack Klingbeil began submitting gems from his photo collection, and you look at the mass of information from all contributors to date, it becomes obvious, THIS TRAIN IS ROLLING!   I encourage all who have their secret stash of photos, stories, and experiences to share them with the rest of us Alaska Railroad fans.  I hope you will join me in supporting John Combs in making this a lasting effort of preservation.   Patrick J. Durand
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'Railroad lady' pushes link through Canada - 2/12/02
Anchorage Daily News
Under the heading of special interests or hobbies on their resumes, most people list things like jogging, reading, or perhaps, bowling.

Rep. Jeanette James lists the Alaska-Canada rail link.

"Yes," the North Pole Republican said, "I'm known as the 'railroad lady.' "

Since 1993, James has championed a rail and utility connection between Alaska and the rest of North America, a link that she says will benefit the military and the mining, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and oil and gas sectors of the economy.

A track running from her home district in Fairbanks to the Canadian border also would lower the cost of shipping, she says. 

"There is a lot of potential if we have the infrastructure," said James, adding that an Alaska-Canada rail link could open mineral development including gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum and tin. It could also provide access to timber and to the coal field near Point Lay.

The railroad's right of way could also be used for natural gas pipelines, roads, fiber-optic cable and other utilities, she said.

"We have to diversify our economy so we are not dependent on oil and gas," James said.

Last year, the House passed legislation sponsored by James directing the Alaska Railroad Corp. to identify and the state Department of Natural Resources to grant a right of way over state land for a 500-foot-wide rail and utility corridor from Alaska to Whitehorse, in Canada's Yukon Territory.

On Jan. 31 the bill passed the Senate Transportation Committee and has been referred to the Senate Resources Committee.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska and a longtime rail advocate, in 2000 got $6 million in federal money for a three-year U.S.-Canadian study of a rail line's feasibility.

The Canadian government isn't entirely sold on the continental rail network, but the idea is picking up steam, James said. The project cannot fully proceed without the support of the Canadian government, she said.

"There is more and more interest in British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon," she said.

The cost of building the connection in Alaska would be staggering. James estimates it would cost $2 million to $3 million a mile for the 1,150 to 1,250 miles of track needed, or $2.3 billion to $3.7 billion.

That's a bargain compared with other transportation infrastructure projects like highways and airports, and railroads are easier to build, James said.

"I like railroads," James said. "They are more environmentally sound, they get polluters off the roads, they leave a smaller footprint, and on top of everything else, they are fun."

James' enthusiasm for the railroad hasn't always been met with likemindedness, especially when she was pushing for a railroad extension to Russia, via a Bering Strait tunnel.

"People used to rolls their eyes at me," James admitted. "Even a close friend of mine and constituent said it was the dumbest idea I've ever had."

James believes that idea has merit, but it was a hard sell, especially when combined with the Alaska-Canada rail connection project.

"I think that people thought that that was too big of a bite to chew," James said, adding that the Alaska-Canada link is more palatable for most people.

"I think we can get this part done," James said. " I think it will happen in my lifetime. I'm 72 and my mother lived to be 92."
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Knowles unveils plan to cut cost of gas line - 2/7/02
Railroad: Tax-exempt bonds could trim price by more than $1 billion
Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Tony Knowles is turning to an unlikely partner in his quest to bring the state one more pipeline boom: the Alaska Railroad.

On Thursday, he unveiled an initiative that could reduce the cost of building an estimated $15 billion to $20 billion natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48 by more than $1 billion.

The idea calls for the state-owned Alaska Railroad to issue tax-exempt bonds for companies that build and run the proposed pipeline, and pay off the bonds. The exemption would save the companies money and could generate millions of dollars more in state gas royalties, Knowles said.

While the Alaska Railroad would finance 70 percent of the project, neither the railroad nor the state would own the line. They also would not be liable to pay off the debt. That would be up to the companies, Knowles said.

The governor views the Alaska Railroad as a "creative financing option," one he hopes will make the project more attractive to the gas companies. The Legislature would need to approve the initiative.

[See story]

Flat cars - 2/7/02
Based on an email from an anonymous source
I noticed in the car shop the other day we have purchased a new depressed center flat car #5575. It is a four axle design (two per truck). The number I believe is one that belonged to a retired six axle military flat. There are also twenty or so ninety foot single stack container cars new to the fleet. They look just like a TOFC car with no deck and pedestals added for 53 foot containers and or 40's and 20's. Some of the sixty foot flat cars are going through a rebuild and getting painted.
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Seward bus, trolley and Kenai River Trail included in funds from federal package - 2/4/02
Kenai Peninsula Online
Seward would get its bus stop and trolley, Palmer, its pedestrian trail.

And the Alaska Railroad would get more than $20 million in federal funds to keep it on track.

[See story]

Latest Alaska Central Railroad status - 1/30/02
Email from Mike Presley
"The Alaska Central Railroad Company, Incorporated (AKC), is continuing to seek out and take advantage of opportunities in the Alaskan rail and transportation industry.  We have engaged in transactions for rail surplus with the Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARR) and have ongoing informal talks with staff and management to improve understanding and cooperation between the two companies.

The AKC is still interested in participating in the building and operation of a rail spur to Tyonek and the Lower Susitna area.  A major prerequisite for the Tyonek spur is for the Beluga Coal Field to be developed by one of the two lease holders.  This, in turn, rests on the ability of one or both lease holders to obtain a long-term contract for the production and sale of the coal.  With the Asian economy (primary target market) still in the doldrums, it may be some time, yet, before this spur will become a reality.

However, AKC continues to explore possibilities with prospective customers (not current ARR customers) and with the ARR that will work to mutual advantage."
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Rebuilt P-30 arrives in Seattle - 1/28/02
By ever vigilant Northwest coast correspondent, Steve Noland
I caught Alaska Railroad power car P-30 yesterday (January 26) at the Balmer Yard in Seattle.  It is waiting to go south again to the joint BNSF/UP Whatcom Yard to be transferred to the UP for travel to Harbor Island and the barge service.
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Rails of the future - 1/28/02
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Fairbanks appears to be on the front end of planning efforts regarding possible relocations, improvements or expansion of the Alaska Railroad through the Interior.

The Alaska Railroad Corp. is in the midst of a variety of ambitious plans, including the construction of a new depot, as well as considering ways to realign its tracks in the local area to avoid 48 street or highway crossings.

Last week, the Fairbanks North Star Borough decided to create a railroad task force that will work to resolve conflicts and move such projects forward. The idea is that the local community would be working closely with the railroad to ensure the project is satisfactory to both parties.

The task force, which includes a seat for a railroad representative, even has the support of the railroad leadership. It was the idea of assembly member Bonnie Williams and will, among other things, make recommendations regarding placement of railroad depots, rail staging areas and how the railroad should interact with the airport and major industries.

Sometimes task forces such as these can do more to stall plans than to expedite them. However, it sounds like this panel is off to the right start.  Particularly important was getting the approval of railroad officials so that the borough and the corporation can work together to find the best solutions for the community.

This appears to be the first such community-based planning group in the state. It is good to know Fairbanks is ahead of the curve on an issue that will have a major impact on our community's development--both physical and economic--in the coming decades.
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Wilderness Express bi-levels at BNSF Denver - 1/27/02
From www.trainorders.com
The new Royal Caribbean Cruise Line/Celebrity Cruises Line "Wilderness Express" ultra dome bi-level passenger cars were at BNSF's 31st Street Yard, Denver, CO, on 1-25-2002. The cars were built at Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, LLC, at Fort Lupton, CO, along the Union Pacific's Greeley Subdivision. The two cars, RCIX 1003 & 1004, will eventually end up in Alaska joining the two similiar cars built and delivered in 2001. Cars are white with large bear on their sides. 

Possible delivery route, Denver to Laurel, MT, train. Anyone know what train they'll take out of Colorado? (Thanks to C.W. for his sighting).

[See more of the thread]

Denali Railroad project could move forward this summer - 1/26/02
The Associated Press
Preliminary work on a railroad into the north end of Denali National Park and Preserve could begin as early as this summer.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law that transfers 35-hundred acres of state land to the Denali Borough to build a railroad. The governor vetoed the measure, but last week the Legislature overrode that veto.

The law names Kantishna holdings of Fairbanks as the developer of the project. Company president Joe Fields says he's ready to move forward. He says surveying along the proposed route could begin this summer. Fields says he plans to finance the project by selling shares in his company.

But opponents say they want to see an environmental impact statement on the railroad proposal.

Linda Paganelli works for the Northern Environmental Center and lives near the route where the tracks would be laid. She says there's been no input from local residents.

Before the railroad can be built into the park it would have to be approved by the National Park Service. So far, the agency hasn't endorsed any access at the northern end of Denali. But that could change with the Bush administration and the appointment of a new park superintendent.
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Alaska Railroad derails some Wasilla residents' request - 1/25/02
MSNBC News by Lynn Melling
Anchorage, Alaska, Jan. 24 - The future of Wasilla's railroad tracks all comes down to money. The Alaska Railroad said it supports the idea of looking into a safer, more efficient system, but at this point it's just too expensive. 

Some city residents wanted to move the track because of safety concerns. But the railroad said its pockets are not deep enough to support the project. 

Wednesday night, residents gathered in Wasilla to find out more about the status of the project. 

Some said the tracks are too dangerous, but others, who faced losing their homes, are clearly pleased. 

"We really don't want to move. We'd much rather stay right here. No doubt about it," said Jerry Bennett, a Wasilla resident. "With the school buses going across it and all the kids and stuff, the more crossings you can eliminate, the better." 

The rerouting project could eliminate 11 crossings. 
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Retired equipment - 1/24/02
Based on an email from Jerry VanThomme
I noticed a hospital train on the schedule today so I made a phone call to find out what was going on.  It turns out we are getting ready to send a bunch of retired equipment to Alaska Metals some time soon, as in this weekend.

In Anchorage ready to go any day are coaches 601 and 602 and possibly any other retire equipment coupled to them.  These, I believe, are the ones that were sitting next to the old power house for the longest time.  There is also a train headed south from Fairbanks that has a lot of old maintenance of way equipment that will also be scrapped.  This train will probably overnight in Talkeetna tonight (Wednesday 23 Jan) and get to Anchorage Thursday.  Thursday and Friday it will probably be sorted in Anchorage and could start going to Alaska Metals Friday night or Sunday night for cutting to begin on Monday.
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Railroad scraps reroute - 1/22/02
Based on an email from Robert Krol
Channel 2 News says the ARR plans to reroute the tracks in Wasilla have died for now.  Wasilla wants the tracks to go around the town, but the costs are too high. 
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Railroad projects abound - 1/20/02
By John Combs
The Alaska Railroad is in the midst of a building boom fueled by nearly $300 million in federal funds pumped into its coffers over the past six years. 

The upswing in activity began in earnest last year, with more than two dozen ongoing construction projects planned along the 500-mile rail line from Seward to North Pole. Railroad officials credit the building frenzy to funding obtained in 1996 after Alaska's congressional delegation pushed for the railroad to be recognized as a passenger rail. Before then, the state-owned railroad received no federal funding.

[See story]

Regulatory delay crimps Fairbanks depot plans - 1/20/02
By John Combs
FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Railroad will have to hustle if it wants to open a new Fairbanks depot in 2004.

The construction schedule has been delayed because railroad officials had to show that the project will not contribute to the Interior's air quality problems.

The bulk of the construction should take place in 2003, although some may still take place this summer, an Alaska Railroad official said.

[See story]

Odds and ends - 1/18/02
By John Combs
The ARRC is planning to do about seven overhauls in their own shops this year.  Since they cannot paint at their shops they won't get the new paint.  Units include GP49 numbers 2805, 2806 and 2809, GP40-2 numbers 3003 and 3006 and GP38-2 number 2001.  Work will begin this summer.

The new hopper lease is in place.  There are 30 JAIX and about 10 CEFX cars permanently assigned to the ARRC.  In addition, they have leased fifteen more similar (4 pocket 100 ton) cars: HPJX40500-40600 series.

The diesel shop is scheduled to work on two SD70MACs: 4015 which lost its dynamic brakes and 4016 which lost its radar.

The ARRC will have an open house at the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn in Wasilla on January 23 from 4-7 p.m. to discuss its proposed capital project plans.  Agenda items include:

  • Anchorage-to-Wasilla track realignment
  • Commuter study results
  • Wasilla rail relocation study
  • Wasilla intermodal facility
  • Palmer Intermodal center
  • Proposed Talkeetna depot improvements
  • Bridge and siding improvements

  • The ARRC has a solicitation out for general contractors to construct a freight facility in Whittier.  The major items include:
  • Construct pile supported platform docks
  • Construct/modify electrical facilities
  • Construct/modify upland area and embankment slopes
  • Demolish/remove identified existing features

  • The project will be completed no later than July 10.
    .
    Holland America Westours acquires dome car - 1/14/02
    Based on an email from an anonymous source
    Historical information: GN 1391 "Ocean View" -  to Amtrak 9361. Was a 1969 "experimental" paint scheme car when it, along with diner "Lake Minnetonka", was repainted by the GN's Dale Street shops (MSP), as FULL width white stripes on both sides without the standard "turn down". The white stripe was straight through the car, effectively making a half green (lower) half white (upper) scheme with black roof and GN Big Sky Blue style lettering and logos. After Amtrak purchase, the car was rebuilt 3/85 with HEP and numbered 9300(2) and used in Amtrak Auto Train service - the name was retained. It was refurbished and renumbered 10031 in 1999 (name removed), and assigned to Corporate Services Unit. As of 2000, it was in active service in the Amtrak "San Diegan" pool. 

    Car was sold 9/2001 to Holland America Westours with the stipulation possession could not occur until after winter special train usage.  Shipped to Seattle 9/2001 for special train service, with the 'honor' of being the last dome in Amtrak's possession.
    .

    Residents scrutinize plan to move railroad tracks - 1/8/02
    The Frontiersman, By Scott Christiansen
    Wasilla's Railroad Relocation study has come under fire from residents outside of city limits who live along what is called "Route D," the southernmost of four routes described in the plan.

    The study is currently in draft form, and after the addition of public comments it will be presented to the city by city-contracted planner Scott Hattenburg, of the Anchorage-based engineering firm Hattenburg & Dilley. In the last month, those comments have more than tripled due to the efforts of residents along Route D, Hattenburg said.

    Hattenburg was planning to attend a meeting of the Knik/Fairview Community Council on Thursday, Jan. 3, after this issue of the Frontiersman went to press.

    "We've received over 100 letters which are opposed to Route D and they are being heard, which is the way we want it," Hattenburg said. He added that the public comment period on the seed study was extended as opposition to Route D poured in.

    "They've responded in probably the last four weeks. They've strongly voiced opposition to the D route -- and we anticipated this," Hattenburg said. "It's much like building a major highway through someone's neighborhood. The more input we get, the better picture we'll be able to draw for the city when we present this as to what it all actually means."

    Even a cursory look at letters of opposition to Route D make it clear what they mean -- "Not in by backyard" is the message repeated over and over again in a packet provided to the Frontiersman by area residents. It's a case of an ambitious project -- $66 million and seven to 10 years of work by Hattenburg's estimate -- that raised the ire of property owners with land in
    its path.

    Roy Carlson, a retired engineer who has worked for the Mat-Su Borough and the Army Corps of Engineers, has been soliciting his Fairview Loop area residents and drumming up comments on Route D. Many of Carlson neighbors believes Route D is a bad idea that favors Wasilla's growth at the expense of borough resident south of city limits.

    "My experience with these sorts of things is that you want to kill them before they get legs," Carlson said. "I don't know if this is just a Wasilla effort, or if there is a railroad effort behind the scenes, and I want to see a stake driven through the heart of Route D right now, before the railroad goes to Washington, D.C., or anybody else goes after money to fund it any further."

    The goals for the seed study were to improve traffic and do away with at-grade railroad crossings. The current situation has been described as dangerous and blamed for traffic congestion when trains come through town. Carlson said he recognizes that.

    "Frankly, I'm in favor of moving it, but I would say that routes A, B or C would work very well," he said.

    Carlson has been rounding up comments from his neighbors and forwarding them to Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, Alaska state legislators and Alaska's congressional delegation. He said he became concerned that a speedy response from his neighborhood was vital when he learned at a meeting Dec. 3 that only about 50 people had commented on the study and very few of them were against Route D.

    "The people on Route D did not want to let that stand -- most of them didn't even know about [the study]," Carlson said.

    Palin said she is actually pleased to know people are commenting on the plan.

    "That's a good sign that people are cognizant of the issues," Palin said. "I hope that it's a sign that our project manager, Scott Hattenburg, is doing a good job of getting the word out."

    Palin said the idea of moving the tracks has been kicked around in Wasilla for 10 or 20 years. She also said in the past few weeks she has been trying to assure people that the city wants an informed public and welcomes public comments.

    "If the city was trying to sneak something by them, then the project manager wouldn't be attending their community council meeting this week," Palin said.

    When pressed, Palin refused to say if she had a preferred route and said her commitment was to studying the idea and plan for growth.

    "I'm supporting the study to be done, so we can deal with the issue based on facts," Palin said. " ... unfortunately, it usually takes a loss of life for people to tackle the issue, and we wanted to tackle it before that happened, not after."
    .

    Highly prized annual railroad painting debuts in January - 1/8/02
    by James MacPherson
    The Alaska Railroad Corp. is slated to release its annual artist's print in early January.

    This year's print by Anchorage artist Debra Dubac depicts two locomotives pulling freight along Turnagain Arm from Whittier to Anchorage. The foreground of the painting includes a splash of wildflowers including arctic poppies, forget-me-nots, daisies, fireweed and squirrel grass.

    Since 1979, an official painting has been produced each year except in 1984.  Initially, the paintings were reproduced to offset the costs of producing the railroad's annual report, said Patrick Flynn, the railroad's public affairs officer.

    The paintings have featured some of Alaska's best-known artists and are prized by people from around the world, Flynn said.

    "There are people who collect these religiously," Flynn said. "They are highly anticipated by collectors and employees.''

    The railroad will produce 750 prints and 4,500 posters of Dubac's painting.  Lapel pins also are available.

    Prints cost $50; posters $25; and lapel pins are $5, Flynn said.

    A committee each year selects an artist from about two dozen entries, Flynn said. Winning artists are paid $4,000 and given two round-trip train tickets, Flynn said.

    "The reason people do it is the high profile, not the money,'' Flynn said. "The advantage to the artists is that they don't have to pay for the production costs.''

    Dubac, an illustrator for the former Anchorage Times, now owns Dubac Designs, specializing in fine and graphic art.

    Dubac said the painting for the railroad wasn't easy.

    "I do a lot of flowers, but this was my first attempt at a train and that was challenging,'' Dubac said. "I learned the anatomy of a train.''

    The painting took several months to complete, including research and the actual painting. The final product had to pass muster with railroad employees and train experts to make sure every detail was exact, Dubac said.

    "It was very time-consuming,'' Dubac said. "I was pleased it passed their inspection on the first attempt.''

    The first official Alaska Railroad painting was done in 1979 by John Van Zyle. Susan Ogle has four winning prints and Richard Rodriquez has three.

    Other winning artists include Jarrett J. Jester, Deanna Brandon, Don Kolstad, Gary Mealor, Tom Stewart, Shane Lamb, Steve Gordon, Armond Kirschbaum, Dan Miller, Robert Silvers and James Havens.
    .

    Railroad forecasts higher revenues - 1/1/02
    Alaska Journal of Commerce
    Railroad forecasts higher revenues but less profit in '02 The Alaska Railroad Corp. is expecting more revenues from freight and passenger service for 2002, but increased costs in fuel, insurance, personnel, lawsuits, maintenance and other factors will drive profits down by more than $2 million.
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    Page created 2/1/02 and last updated 7/1/02
     

    © 2002 John Combs unless otherwise noted