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Repairs underway on Cantwell railroad tracks after fuel tanker derailment

The Alaska Railroad Corp. expects to have its trains back on schedule by Friday evening after a derailed fuel tanker ripped up multiple portions of track early Tuesday morning.

A rail car carrying about 23,000 gallons of jet fuel went off the tracks 3 miles south of Cantwell around 3:14 a.m., the railroad company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. No injuries or fuel spills have been reported, but the derailment caused “significant damages” to railroad ties between mileposts 314 and 316.8, as well as ties on a bridge spanning the Cantwell River, the statement said.

Tim Sullivan Jr., a spokesman for the Alaska Railroad Corp., said at least two freight trains have been delayed because of the damage, but the railroad is hoping to have the tracks repaired by the time the next train starts north to Fairbanks on Friday evening.

The damages aren’t expected to affect passenger trains, which aren’t scheduled to run until Saturday, after repairs are likely to be completed, Sullivan said.

A single Alaska Railroad railcar rolled off tracks near Cantwell, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. The frame of the ’truck ’, which is underneath the train and holds the wheels and axles, was running on top of the ties, according to AK Railroad's Tim Sullivan. ’ That's what did all the damage ’, he said. (Photo provided by Alaska Railroad Corp.)

The derailed tanker was part of a 76-car train headed north to Fairbanks. About half of those cars were able to separate from the derailed car and continue north, while a remaining 35 cars became trapped on both sides of the bridge behind the tanker, unable to continue forward.

All the cars south of the bridge were hauled further south Wednesday in an effort to clear the tracks, Sullivan said. Crews began replacing the damaged ties that same day.

The derailed tanker is standing upright less than a foot off the tracks, Sullivan said, but re-railing it is still a lengthy process. Crews are now working to pump the jet fuel out of the derailed car and into an empty tanker so that it can be removed to a nearby side track.

“They’re a lot easier to move when they’re empty,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the cause of the derailment is still under investigation, but the damage from the Nov. 30 earthquake is not considered a factor. The company is looking into the possibility that a wheel bearing may have overheated, he said.

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