ANCHORAGE -- The Alaska Railroad Corp. has completed the first in a $78 million series of track improvements between Anchorage and Wasilla.
Last month the railroad completed the realignment of about three miles of track on Elmendorf Air Force Base.
The new alignment moves the track 3,000 feet farther east of the east-west runway at Elmendorf. The work was done to alleviate safety concerns the U.S. Air Force had with the line's location, said railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn.
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, Flynn said.
Construction went smoothly, with minimal traffic delays, according to Flynn. The line is made of continuously welded rail designed to lessen noise, he said.
The state-owned railroad began construction last spring on the project that will straighten about 70 curves on the Anchorage-to-Wasilla line. Some road crossings along the track also will be improved.
Most of the funding for the 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 construction last April. That portion is scheduled for completion next year.
When all three phases are completed in 2004, travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla will drop from 90 minutes to just under an hour, according to railroad officials. Trains should be able to reach speeds of about 50 mph instead of 20-25 mph, Flynn said.
The railroad also expects shorter travel times and reduced track curvature to reduce wear and tear on the trains.
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.
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