Alaska Railroad freight, passenger service halted for fire, washout near Denali National Park

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Alaska Railroad Garner Frank Keller
An Alaska Railroad freight makes it way through Healy Canyon, near Garner., where a retaining wall failed Aug. 17. The wall is just south of the bridge, five cars ahead of the distributed power, near the center of the photograph.
Frank Keller

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Summer 2019 has been unusual for Alaska with record breaking heat in the south and torrential rains to the north.

As a result of more than 12 inches of rain throughout a seven-day period, a retaining wall on Alaska Railroad at milepost 355.2, just south of Garner, Alaska, was compromised Aug. 16, causing disruption to both freight and passenger service.

Just south of that location, warm weather and thunderstorms contributed to the starting of the McKinley Fire on Aug. 17. Fueled by high winds, the fire jumped the tracks at MP 205 and continued to burn along both sides of the track. Passenger and freight operations were suspended with passengers being transferred by motor coach through the affected areas.

Fire crews worked to contain the fire, while Alaska Railroad maintenance-of-way forces repaired the retaining wall. The railroad restored service on Aug. 20, with its overnight freight through both affected areas between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Passenger service was restored Aug. 21.

As warm weather continues, Alaska Railroad is currently contending with high water. The Snow River Glacial Dam burst causing high water along the Snow River at MP 15.2, north of Seward. The railroad is using motor coaches to transport passengers between Seward and Moose Pass for its Coastal Classic and various cruise trains operated out of Seward. High water is expected to crest sometime tonight with normal operations to resume as soon as the water recedes.

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