Governor orders probe of railroad

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Tony Knowles has ordered a safety investigation of the Alaska Railroad following this week's derailment and fuel spill, the third such incident in seven months.

The governor, traveling in western Alaska, said four members of his cabinet would conduct the probe of operational safety of the state-owned rail line.

``The Alaska Railroad is a vital part of our state's economy and I want to ensure the public has the full trust in the railroad's handling of fuel-freight and passengers,'' Knowles said.

On Wednesday nine cars in a freight train jumped the track near Wasilla. Four 20,000-gallon tanker cars filled with gasoline tumbled down a steep 25-foot embankment. One of them leaked as much as 300 gallons of fuel, according to the railroad.

Fuel in the derailed cars has been transferred to tanker trucks.

The spill was the railroad's third since November.

That month 10 cars left the track about 40 miles north Talkeetna. About 12,500 gallons of jet fuel spilled.

And a few days before Christmas, more than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel was spilled in another derailment north of Talkeetna. Cleanup of that spill continues.

A Lower 48 railroad safety consulting firm was expected to arrive in Alaska on Thursday to look into the cause of the accident. The consultant will examine a tape from the locomotive that recorded the train's speed at the time of the derailment, whether brakes were applied and other information.

The Knowles administration's probe will be led by Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, who oversees the state Division of Emergency Services. The other three members are departmental commissioners: Environmental Conservation's Michele Brown, Transportation's Joe Perkins and Public Safety's Ron Otte.

Knowles said the review team would be able to hire experts to help them prepare their report, due to the governor by mid-October.

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