Avalanche Derails Freight Train in Alaska

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train derailed avalanche
Credit: Girdwood Fire and Rescue

Yesterday morning, a train was derailed after running into avalanche debris on the line near Girdwood, AK. Nobody was injured.

The avalanche derailed two Alaska Railroad freight train locomotives and partially derailed a third. The 3,144-foot-long freight train and its 6,091 tons of freight remain on the tracks and will be until crews carry out safety assessments.

At 2AM, Girdwood Fire Rescue responded with 7 firefighters to a train derailment south of Girdwood due to avalanche. After a safety risk evaluation of avalanche and ice conditions by DOT and ARRC avalanche personnel, a rescue team of 3 firefighters and one ARRC employee crossed the ice and climbed the debris to the train. Train employees were able to self extricate and were escorted back to the Seward Highway for evaluation by Girdwood medics. The Girdwood crew was back in service by 0400.

Avalanches in this area of Turnagain Arm are not uncommon and Girdwood local avalanche expert Dave Hamre published a journal article on the history related to train travel and avalanche mitigation.

We thank the local avalanche powerhouse team of expertise of DOT, ARRC, Alyeska Ski Patrol, USFS, and the Chugach and Hatcher’s Pass Avalanche Centers in helping mitigate avalanche risk for southcentral thru mitigation and forecasting.

Remember wear your beacons, practice your rescue plans and know the snow avalanche conditions.

Girdwood Fire and Rescue

train derailed avalanche
Credit: Girdwood Fire and Rescue

Three crew members were onboard and managed to remove themselves from the train.

“It’s definitely an unusual occurrence to have a train impacted.”

– railroad spokesperson Christy Terry

The slide occurred overnight, south of Girdwood along Turnagain Arm, covering 300 feet of the track with 30 feet of snow and debris before the train struck the debris at around 2 am.

The slide didn’t reach the Seward Highway, although motorists were affected while avalanche mitigation work was conducted between mileposts 85 and 88.

Avalanches in the area are common and heavy snow the previous day meant conditions were ‘ripe for avalanches.’

“We had a quick hitting storm that actually put more – double the amount of snow than was expected overnight. So we call that sort of a quick, rapid loading situation, and that came in also with wind. When you get weather that comes in that quick, you can get natural avalanches, avalanches that just occur because of the weather.”

– Wendy Wagner, director of Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center

Turnagain arm, AK

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