Contractor to pinpoint railroad's trouble spots

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The contractor that investigates Alaska Railroad derailments will conduct a computer-based safety study this fall to pinpoint trouble spots on hundreds of miles of aging track.

Railroad president Bill Sheffield said Rail Sciences Inc. is expected to begin the on-site ''risk assessment'' in late August and should be finished before the end of the year.

''They will go from one end of the railroad to the other and assess procedures, not only of the (tracks) between Anchorage, Fairbanks and Seward, but shop procedures, maintenance procedures, maintenance-away procedures on track,'' Sheffield said in a recent interview.

The analysis will include a computer model that will identify accident-prone sections of track.

The railroad announced the assessment in January after two derailments last winter, said railroad spokeswoman Wendy Lindskoog. The railroad hired Rail Sciences to do the work.

An October derailment at Canyon Creek spilled about 12,500 gallons. A December derailment at Gold Creek spilled about 120,500 gallons and a derailment last week near Palmer spilled about 100 to 600 gallons of gasoline.

The assessment will be useful in developing a better oil spill contingency plan, according to Lindskoog. Sheffied has said he believes the Legislature is likely to require such a plan next spring.

Sheffield said the railroad runs on hundreds of miles of aging, outdated track, and he outlined an ambitious schedule of reconstruction and upgrades.

''It was all rehabbed in the early 1950s, so it's all going to wear out at once,'' he said. ''We've been doing a lot of work the last five years ... about $80 million worth.''

A $70 million effort to rebuild track between Klatt Road in South Anchorage and Wasilla should get started next spring. The work will include reducing curves along the line.

''The worst thing for a railroad is curves,'' Sheffield said.

Despite the problems, Sheffield said the railroad is safe.

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