A railroad freight train in Alaska was thrown off its tracks early Tuesday morning after an avalanche field barreled into the train.
Alaska Railroad External Affairs Director Christy Terry said no one was severely hurt in the incident. She added that the collision occurred around rail mile 71.5, located about three miles southeast of Girdwood.
According to the company’s Chief Operations Officer Clark Hopp, two railroad employees were on board the train at the time. It left Whittier, Alaska, just after 1 a.m. on Tuesday and was moved north at around 20 mph. Hopp said employees are well-prepared for these kinds of incidents.
“They’re aware of the hazards of working underneath avalanches. We have a protocol depending on the severity of the risk that’s out there,” Hopp said in an official release following the impact. “This was a fairly low-risk time of year, so we’re somewhat surprised to see this avalanche.”
Officials say they’re ‘surprised’ that avalanche hit train this time of year
Hopp also noted that at this time, it’s unclear when the avalanche field came barreling down the mountain. However, reports indicate that it hit the moving train at around 2 a.m. When the avalanche field struck the train, it derailed the first two locomotive cars. In addition, the impact partially derailed a third car along with the train, which is over 3,000 feet.
According to a spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the slide thankfully never got to the roadway. It measured 300 feet wide and 30 feet deep.
Per reports from Hopp, the company’s goal is to have snow moved off the tracks. He also hopes the locomotives will be re-railed by late Wednesday.
Andrew Schauer, a Lead forecaster for the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, also said a storm on Monday evening left the area with double the amount of snow forecasters initially predicted. As a result, it made conditions in the area extremely dangerous.
“That was enough snow with a 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 possibly making even bigger avalanches with those deeper weak layers.”
On Tuesday morning, Girdwood Fire and Rescue posted on their Facebook page that motorists should be prepared for delays. The sections of affected roads included the Seward Highway between mileposts 85 and 88 as the state’s Department of Transportation worked on clearing the avalanche.