Avalanche derails train south of Girdwood

The two crewmembers on board the train did not sustain any injuries
The two crewmembers on board the train did not sustain any injuries
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 11:15 AM AKST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2023 at 6:27 PM AKST
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GIRDWOOD, Alaska (KTUU) - An Alaska Railroad freight train was derailed early Tuesday morning when it collided with an avalanche field.

No one was hurt in the incident, according to Alaska Railroad External Affairs Director Christy Terry, who said the impact occurred around rail mile 71.5 about three miles southeast of Girdwood.

According to the company’s Chief Operations Officer Clark Hopp, two crewmembers were on board the train that departed Whittier after 1 a.m. Tuesday and was heading north at 20 mph. Hopp said crews are trained for these kinds of scenarios.

“They’re aware of the hazards of working underneath avalanches, and we have a protocol depending on the severity of the risk that’s out there,” Hopp stated. “This was a fairly low-risk time of year, so we’re somewhat surprised to see this avalanche.”

While it’s yet unknown when the avalanche itself came down, Hopp said the train hit the snow field around 2 a.m. derailing the first two locomotive cars and partially derailing a third along the 3,144-foot train.

A spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said the slide — measuring 300 feet wide and 30 feet deep — did not reach the roadway.

According to Hopp, the company hopes to have snow cleared from the tracks, and the locomotives re-railed by late Wednesday.

Lead forecaster for the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center Andrew Schauer said a storm Monday evening dumped double the amount of snow models were predicting, making the conditions hazardous in the area.

“That was enough snow with strong wind to make for avalanche problems on its own, but making matters worse is that it’s falling on a snowpack that has multiple weak layers buried in it,” Schauer said. “We sort of have these two things going on with unstable conditions with the new snow, and then potentially making even bigger avalanches with those deeper weak layers.”

Girdwood Fire and Rescue posted on Facebook Tuesday morning that drivers should expect intermittent delays on the Seward Highway between mileposts 85 and 88 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for DOT avalanche mitigation.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.