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Railroad: Flood damage, lost revenue may top $1M

Posted: September 24, 2012 - 11:01pm
In this photo taken Saturday Sept. 22, 2012 and provided by the Alaska Railroad, crews install a culvert below some 500 feet of dangling railroad tracks at a washout 35 miles north of Talkeetna, Alaska. The washed-out track south of Gold Creek runs parallel to the Susitna River. The railroad says 35 crew members are working round the clock on work trains with air-dump cars hauling fill material. Crews with heavy equipment are rebuilding the washed-out track from both ends. (AP Photo/Alaska Railroad)
In this photo taken Saturday Sept. 22, 2012 and provided by the Alaska Railroad, crews install a culvert below some 500 feet of dangling railroad tracks at a washout 35 miles north of Talkeetna, Alaska. The washed-out track south of Gold Creek runs parallel to the Susitna River. The railroad says 35 crew members are working round the clock on work trains with air-dump cars hauling fill material. Crews with heavy equipment are rebuilding the washed-out track from both ends. (AP Photo/Alaska Railroad)

ANCHORAGE — Washouts of railroad track after heavy rains and revenue lost because of idled trains are likely to cost the Alaska Railroad more than $1 million, a spokeswoman said Monday.

“We’re still tallying the costs,” said Stephenie Wheeler, corporate communications officer. “We expect it to be in the seven figures, but we don’t know yet how much it’s going to be. It could be $1 million, $2 million. We’re just not sure yet.”

Trains between Anchorage and Fairbanks have not operated since Wednesday. That means no tank cars carrying petroleum from the North Pole Refinery or coal cars from Usibelli Coal Mines at Healy north of Denali National Park.

The railroad, like much of southcentral Alaska, has been hard-hit by a pair of rainstorms that poured moisture on already saturated ground, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Stricklan said.

Talkeetna has received 8.4 inches of rain in the past 10 days. Its September monthly average is 4.1 inches. The daily record of 2.3 inches was matched Thursday, and another 1.4 inches fell Friday, Stricklan said.

Railroad track and bridges were hardest hit in a 70-mile stretch between Willow and Gold Creek.

High water 35 miles north of Talkeetna left 500 feet of mainline track dangling Saturday just south of Gold Creek. The washout is in a section accessible only by rail.

Crews worked round the clock from both ends of the washout over the weekend to make repairs. By Monday morning, they had dumped about 20,000 cubic yards of material to replace washed-out rail bed, with another 5,000 yards to go, Wheeler said.

The railroad Sunday had projected the line would not be repaired until Wednesday, but it had a more optimistic forecast Monday.

“We’re looking at Tuesday — tomorrow afternoon or possibly evening — that we would be able to open up the track,” Wheeler said. “A little earlier than anticipated, barring any damage from rainfall.”

The railroad is watching track along the Nenana River, which flows from Denali National Park to the Tanana River at the city of Nenana.

“The river has crested in that area, and we’re keeping an eye out for any additional damage,” Wheeler said.

Multiple areas along the railroad have minor erosion problems.

“None of those erosion problems prevent rail traffic, but they need to be fixed,” Wheeler said.

At the south end of the Alaska Railroad, the line was intact, but the city of Seward continued to experience problems. The city announced that Lowell Point Road, leading to its southernmost neighborhood, would remain closed until further notice. Residents who need transportation from their homes to Seward Harbor were told to contact a water taxi.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation again warned Matanuska-Susitna residents to be aware that flooding could contaminate wells and drinking water.

The Department of Natural Resources closed most of the Kenai River, from the Cooper Landing Bridge to four miles above the mouth, to boat traffic because of flooding.

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