ANCHORAGE (AP) _ The Alaska Railroad has begun construction on a $78 million project to straighten about 70 curves between Anchorage and Wasilla.
Crossings along the track also will be improved for increased safety, according to officials with the state-owned railroad.
Most of the funding for the project comes from the Federal Railroad Administration, with the railroad matching about 20 percent of the overall cost, railroad officials said.
Construction will be done in three phases: Anchorage to the Eagle River Bridge; Eagle River to Knik River; and Knik to Wasilla.
The railroad, along with Anchorage-based Wilder Construction Co., began work in April on the first phase of the project, a 10.5-mile stretch from the north end of the Anchorage Rail Yard
to the Eagle River Bridge. Work includes realignment of the existing mainline track and construction of a second track. Twenty-eight curves will be straightened, and the track will be moved
3,000 feet farther away from a runway at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
Jason Graham, project engineer for Wilder Construction, said his company will employ up to 35 people this summer. Railworks Inc. of Salt Lake City will be laying track for the project.
Anchorage-based Arctic Electric Inc. will be replacing an underground fiber-optic cable that runs along the tracks.
When all three phases are completed in 2003, travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla will drop from 90 minutes to just under an hour, officials said. Trains should be able to maintain
speeds of about 50 mph instead of slowing to 20-25 mph, which could clear the way to possible commuter service between the two cities, said railroad spokeswoman Wendy Lindskoog.
Most of the curves along the line will be reduced from 10 degrees to 2 degrees, Lindskoog said. The shorter travel times and reduced track curvature will reduce wear and tear on the trains and cut personnel costs, according to the railroad.
``Curves do two things: They slow down trains and they are hard on the equipment,'' Stephanie Wheeler, a railroad spokeswoman, told the Alaska Journal of Commerce. Most importantly, she said, a straighter track greatly reduces the risk of derailment.
The Anchorage to Wasilla track is the most meandering leg of the 470-mile railroad and has had the highest number of derailments over the years, according to Ernie Piper, the railroad's assistant vice president of safety.
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