ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Railroad plans about $77 million in capital improvements this year, with some of the biggest projects slated for development in and around Anchorage.
The sum is comparable to last year's spending. Three-quarters of the money will come from the federal government.
Of the railroad's 13 ongoing projects, the largest is upgrading and straightening the track between Anchorage and Wasilla.
That project, started in spring 2001, is expected to be completed by fall 2005 at a total cost of about $78 million. Once completed, railroad trains should be able to maintain speeds of about 50 mph instead of slowing to 20-25 mph for the curves, railroad officials said.
As a result, the travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla will drop to just under an hour from the 90 minutes the trip now takes. The straighter track also will reduce the risk of derailment, officials said.
The work also would make the idea of commuter rail service between Anchorage and the Mat-Su area more viable. The possibility of such a commuter railroad has been talked about for years.
For it to work, though, the travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla would need to be cut to about 45 minutes, and the cost of the trip would need to be about $5, according to Patrick Gamble, railroad president.
He was among several railroad officials on hand at an open house in Anchorage this week showcasing the various projects and proposals.
The Alaska Railroad, which provides passenger and freight service, has been on a building streak since 1996. That's when the federal government recognized it as a passenger railroad akin to a big-city commuter line. That gave it access to funds for which it previously had not qualified.
So far, the railroad has received about $300 million in federal funds to pay for capital projects, not including the $58.4 million in federal money it expects to receive this year, according to railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn.
A new depot at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was completed late this fall at a cost of about $28 million, paid for by the Federal Railroad Administration. It is scheduled to begin operations this spring.
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