FAIRBANKS — This fall, the Alaska Railroad will be getting a couple of new passengers for its first ride on a U.S. railway.
The Alaska Railroad will be running a pair of liquefied natural gas containers this month as part of a demonstration project to determine whether rail could be a low-cost way of getting natural gas from Southcentral Alaska to Fairbanks.
It’ll be the first time in the United States that liquefied natural gas has been moved by rail. In October 2015, the Alaska Railroad won approval from the Federal Railroad Association to begin hauling LNG.
“We’re really proud to be the first railroad in the country to be permitted to be able to do this,” said Tim Sullivan, the spokesman for the railroad. “While it’s done in other places of the world like Japan and Europe, moving LNG by rail is not done in the United States.”
Sullivan said the pair of 40-foot containers, which are insulated and reinforced to carry more than 7,000 gallons of LNG at a frigid 260 degrees below zero, are on loan from manufacturer Hitachi.
The demonstration project, which isn’t necessary for approval, will help prove if the entire process from loading to delivery is cost-effective.
Currently, LNG is delivered to Fairbanks from a processing facility Point MacKenzie by truck. The rail cars, which are intermodal and can be carried via rail, flatbed truck or barge, will be filled at the Point MacKenzie plant, trucked 70 miles to the rail yard and hauled to Fairbanks. Once in Fairbanks, they’ll be unloaded and trucked another 4.5 miles to the Fairbanks gas storage facility.
“We want to feel out the efficiencies and logistics of what it is to move LNG specifically from Southcentral Alaska to Interior Alaska for the folks in Fairbanks,” Sullivan said. “When you’re moving a lot of heavy stuff over land, railroad is the most efficient way to do that. … We hope that eventually leads into being part of the solution to natural gas growth in Fairbanks, so there is not a concern about supply.”
The first containers, set to arrive in Fairbanks, on Friday will be empty, but later runs will deliver natural gas into the Fairbanks Natural Gas’ distribution system.
Dan Britton, the head of Fairbanks Natural Gas, said he’ll be watching for how the entire process shakes out and how it’ll affect the final price gas customers pay.
“For the most part, (we’re asking) is it economic? Does it provide any other benefits?” he said. “We know what it takes to truck LNG and how could it work in the rail environment? ... We’re looking at all avenues.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.