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Alaska Railroad freight train derails after running into avalanche debris near Girwood

Alaska Railroad freight train derails after running into avalanche debris near Girwood
An Alaska Railroad freight train is surrounded by snow after driving into an avalanche slide near Girwood on Tuesday morning, Jan. 17, 2023. Two locomotives were derailed, but no injuries were reported. (courtesy alaska railroad)

An Alaska Railroad freight train went under avalanche debris on the tracks Tuesday morning south of Girwood.

Railway officials said two locomotives were derailed and a third partially derailed by the collision. Girdwood Fire & Rescue helped out Two crew members in the main locomotive. They were harmless.

“It is certainly an unusual occurrence that a train has been affected,” said rail spokeswoman Christy Terry.

An overnight slide occurred before the arrival of a northbound train a few miles south of Girdwood along the Turnagain Arm. The train collided with the wreckage just before 2 o’clock

Justin Shelby, administrative operations manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said the slide did not directly affect motorists because it did not reach Seward Highway. Shelby said there were traffic delays later Tuesday morning while the department conducted related operations. Avalanche Mitigation Work Along Hwy., between mileposts 85 and 88.

The 3,144-foot-long freight train and its 6,091 tonnes of cargo were still out as of Tuesday afternoon. Terry said the security assessment and planning is ongoing and more details will come on Wednesday.

“Any crew would only be during daylight hours for safety reasons,” Terry said. “We will be able to finalize our further plans to get the locomotive back on rail and continue that freight train movement.”

The train was bound for Anchorage from Whittier.

Wendy Wagner, director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center, said the weather Monday night created suitable conditions for avalanches at Girdwood, Turnagain Pass and East Turnagain Arm.

“We had a fast-hitting storm that actually dumped more than — double the amount of snow expected overnight. So that’s what we call that kind of quick, intense loading condition, and that came with the wind as well,” Wagner he said. “When you get weather that comes on so quickly, you can get natural avalanches, avalanches that are just caused by the weather.”

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Shelby with DOT reminds drivers to check the state’s passenger information phone number, mobile app or Website before going out.

“Definitely check 511 before you travel,” Shelby said. “This is where the most up-to-date information will be with regards to any conditions affecting the highway, avalanche or otherwise.”

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