Alaska Railroad plans to buy eight new locomotives

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The Alaska Railroad Corp. has received approval from its board of directors to purchase eight new locomotives at a cost of nearly $19 million.

''This is a substantial investment for a small railroad like us,'' said Pat Gamble, president of the corporation.

Over the next five years, 17 of the railroad's locomotives will reach the end of their productive lives. For a locomotive, that means two million rail miles or 30 years.

Because of new federal diesel emission standards, this is the last call to get the SD70 MAC, the model the railroad wants, said Gamble. The manufacturer, General Motors Electro-Motive Division, is shutting down the assembly line for this particular model.

With 17 locomotives on the way out, the corporation cannot wait.

One of the downsides to purchasing the new locomotives is that it puts the corporation in debt. At nearly $2.5 million apiece, the total price tag for the acquisition is nearly $19 million.

The railroad will pay about one-third of the total cost in cash from net earnings and will cover the other two-thirds by taking out a loan, Gamble said. All of the other locomotives owned by the railroad are paid for.

Another downside is that the purchase cuts into the capital improvement budget for 2004. Some of the projects that were to be completed next year will be put off until the following year, Gamble said.

The SD70 will help modernize the railroad. It comes equipped with a computer system needed for a collision-prevention warning system. Another modernized feature is that speed can be programmed into the SD70, where older locomotives have manual speed control.

The railroad has ordered the locomotives with a few special features, including an environmental pack option for the cold climate and an 800-kilowatt generator option to power the passenger cars.

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