Alaska Railroad track damage

Cracks parallel Alaska Railroad tracks around Parks Highway Mile Post 67, north of Anchorage. At least three stretches of track are impassable because of Friday’s magnitude 7 earthquake, and railroad officials are unsure when service between Anchorage and Fairbanks will resume. The cracks pictured are between two and four feet wide and 100-150 feet long. Photo courtesy Alaska Railroad.

FAIRBANKS—At least three sections of Alaska Railroad track north of Anchorage sustained significant damage and are impassable following Friday's magnitude 7 earthquake that struck just north of Alaska's largest city.

Because of the damage, it's unknown when the railroad will resume normal freight and passenger operations between Anchorage and Fairbanks, but service between Anchorage, Portage and Whittier is expected to resume first thing Sunday.

Alaska Railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said crews have so far identified about six locations between Seward and Milepost 67 of the Parks Highway that require repairs before trains can run again.

In regards to the more significant damage, "We'll have to run a train up there with side dumps and get excavators and bulldozers and get everything shored up," Sullivan said.

Sullivan described the extent of cracks that developed due to shifting and cracking ground. Cracks vary between 2 and 4 feet wide and run approximately 100 to 150 feet on each side of the tracks.

It's also unknown when the railroad's downtown Anchorage operation center will be useable after a hot water pipe burst, activating sprinklers and flooding offices. Operations are being run from backup offices in the meantime.

"We're doing OK here; we got good people doing stuff out on the tracks assessing the damage," Sullivan said.

Work at the Port of Alaska was almost back to normal as of Saturday afternoon after operations were suspended on Friday, but there are no expected delays of cargo shipments.

Once a fuel-line pressure test receives satisfactory results, work will resume at the port, according to spokesman Jim Jager.

Jager explained that a fuel tanker was offloading refined petroleum products when the quake struck, prompting workers to immediately stop the transfer and take precautionary measures.

The transfer will resume Saturday evening if test results are approved.

Jager said all cargo container shipments are scheduled to be on time, which is good because approximately 45 percent of products shipped to Alaska arrive at Anchorage's port.

"Any interruptions to our regular shipping schedule are pretty much being caused by things like Thanksgiving, not the earthquake," Jager said.

He explained that crews began inspecting docks immediately following the earthquake but that high tides prevented a thorough inspection. Workers returned Saturday morning with a literal "boatload of engineers" to look underneath the dock for damage, according to Jager.

Inspectors found a few minor cracks on the top of the deck but no problems underneath.

"Frankly it looked no different than it would have two days ago. ... If it was your house, it would be sort of the equivalent of losing a little trim along the baseboard," Jager said.

Jager credits the port's resilience to building codes and structural maintenance but noted the well-documented corrosion of the piers and the looming inevitability of needing to rebuild the infrastructure.

The port's office building received some damage in the temblor. Jager said his standing desk flipped over, breaking both his computer monitors.

"Leaving the office building was absolutely both hands on railings. The office looks pretty rough, but structurally we're fine," he said.

Contact staff writer Robin Wood at 459-7510. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity.