Investigation into train’s operations begins after woman fatally hit near Bird Point

Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 6:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The investigation into what happened when a 30-year-old woman and a dog were fatally struck by an Alaska Railroad freight train at Bird Point on Wednesday has begun.

Investigators will be looking into the event recorder on the train — similar to a black box on a plane — which holds operational data such as train speed, whether a horn or bell were sounded and other operational parameters, spokesperson Stephenie Wheeler said in an email.

The Alaska Railroad Corp. said on Wednesday that just before 1 p.m., two women were walking along the tracks at Bird Point with four dogs, along a curve in the tracks where a mile-long freight train was coming from Anchorage, headed to Whittier.

The woman who was struck and killed has since been identified as 30-year-old Kristal Lavender. The Alaska Railroad said in a Thursday release that Anchorage police have notified her family.

According to Wheeler, weather was not a factor in the incident.

“The incident at bird point is a tragedy, and a sobering reminder of the dangers of being too close to an active railroad corridor where trains can and do operate at any time,” she said via email.

As the investigation progresses, Shannon McCarthy with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities warns pedestrians to be wary of their surroundings when train tracks are present.

“If you’re a pedestrian, it’s really best to stay off the tracks whenever possible,” McCarthy said. “Today’s locomotives are actually quite quiet and they can sneak up on you, especially if you’re out and about and there’s perhaps wind or highway noise nearby. They just want you to stay off those tracks.”

In Wednesday’s press release, the Alaska Railroad said the areas 100 feet to either side of the tracks are not open to the public as it’s “an active rail transportation corridor.”

This was the 16th fatality involving a pedestrian being struck and killed by a train since the Alaska Railroad transitioned to state ownership in 1985, according to Wheeler. The most recent death before this was in October 2021 when a man was sleeping along a train track north of the Jude Road crossing in Wasilla and was killed by a southbound freight train.

Wheeler also said the railroad will soon launch its annual public safety message campaign about track safety.

“We collectively hold the family in our thoughts and prayers,” she said.

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