Repairs complete on avalanche-damaged Alaska Railroad track

Alaska Railroad crew working on tracks
An Alaska Railroad crew works on track repairs at rail milepost 71.5 near Girdwood on Friday. An avalanche had hit the tracks overnight on Jan. 16, and a freight train hit the debris early on Jan. 17. (Courtesy Alaska Railroad)

The Alaska Railroad track that an avalanche hit last week near Girdwood has been repaired and is back in service, restoring a key link between Alaska’s Railbelt and Lower 48 rail freight. 

In a news release, the Alaska Railroad says its crews finished the repairs on Friday afternoon. 

The avalanche happened about four days earlier — some time on the night of Jan. 16. A freight train bound from Whittier to Anchorage ran into avalanche debris on the track. There were no injuries, but the impact derailed two locomotives, partially derailed a third and held up thousands of tons of freight. 

A derailed Alaska Railroad locomotive
A derailed Alaska Railroad locomotive rests clear of the tracks at rail milepost 71.5 near Girdwood on Friday. This the third of three locomotives that were derailed by hitting avalanche debris on Jan. 17; the other two had already been rerailed. (Courtesy Alaska Railroad)

Crews cleared the snow, got two of the locomotives back on the tracks last week, and moved the third one out of the way. The Alaska Railroad says it plans to rerail it this week, depending on weather and safety conditions. 

The rail connection to Whittier is also a connection to Seattle; The Alaska Railroad runs special marine barges with railroad tracks on them that facilitate loading and unloading train cars. About once a week, the barge delivers train cars loaded in Seattle to Whittier. 

Christy Terry, a spokesperson for the Alaska Railroad, says the barge delivery schedule is already flexible depending on weather, so the effects of delay from the avalanche should be minimal. 

An Alaska Railroad crew works on track repairs on Friday. (Courtesy Alaska Railroad)

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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