ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Railroad Corp. is replacing the bolted rail that it has previously used with continuously welded rail on the corridor between Anchorage and Wasilla.
"This is big stuff," Terry Hinman, manager of welded rail for the railroad, told the Alaska Journal of Commerce. "It is a huge step forward for this railroad."
Crews have been working since March welding the rail together. Installation of the new rail began June 2.
The old sections of rail, which average 80 feet in length, are taken out and welded together in 800- to 1,200-foot lengths. The lengths are then braced into place on the track and welded together using a thermal weld.
The goal for the summer is to replace the rail between the Eagle River Bridge and the Mat-Su junction. That equals about 17 miles of track.
Crews are averaging 2,500 feet a day and so far, have completed 45,000 linear feet of rail - just over 4 miles.
Between $6 million and $8 million will be spent on the project this year.
Hinman said the rail replacement has not affected train schedules between Anchorage and the Valley.
Once the passenger train passes in the morning on the way to Fairbanks, crews jump into action to get as much rail replaced as possible before the train comes back through in the evening.
Freight trains have been running at night to accommodate the construction, said Pat Flynn, spokesman for the railroad.
The traffic on the corridor between Wasilla and Anchorage includes passenger service to Denali and Fairbanks, freight to the Interior and gravel trains from Palmer to Anchorage.
Replacing the bolted rail with continuously welded rail has several advantages.
For the railroad, the new rail means less maintenance time, less maintenance cost and more efficient fuel consumption of the locomotives. It will also mean a prolonged life for the rail. For passengers, it means a smoother rail and therefore a smoother ride. And for neighbors, it means a quieter train.