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People on tracks cause train to make an emergency stop

Michelle Theriault Boots

A train packed with sightseers had to make an emergency stop Wednesday when it encountered a group of day campers and their adult chaperones walking on the tracks along Turnagain Arm, Alaska Railroad officials said.

The Glacier Discovery train left Anchorage at around 9:45 a.m. that day, said Alaska Railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan. At 10:45 a.m., just north of Bird Point, the conductor saw a group of kids and adults walking on the tracks and right-of-way, spread out over about a third of a mile.

The train was going 40 miles per hour at the time, Sullivan said. The train was able to make an emergency stop, and came to rest just 500 feet to 600 feet from where the children and adults had been walking, he said.

That put not only the people on the tracks but the crew and passengers of the train in danger, Sullivan said.

"When a train has to go into an emergency stop the physics of that are pretty major," he said. "We were just lucky nobody got hurt."

Of the 51 children and 14 adults in the group, Sullivan said 30 of them were directly on the tracks.

The group was from Camp Bear Valley, a program of the Bear Valley Community Association.

Deborah Houseman, identified as the lead chaperone of the group, was given a citation for reckless endangerment by Alaska Railroad police, Sullivan said.

The Alaska Railroad police regularly cite trespassers on railroad right of way and tracks, he said.

A woman who answered the phone at the day camp, headquartered at Ocean View Elementary, said she had no comment on the incident and hung up Thursday.

People walk on or around railroad tracks "quite a bit, unfortunately," Sullivan said. The Turnagain Arm area -- where people often cross tracks to get to popular lookout spots like Beluga Point -- is a particular concern, he said.

Walking on railroad tracks or right of way is always dangerous, Sullivan said, even if you think you know when the train is coming or will be able to see it from a distance.

"This was much, much too close a call," Sullivan said.

The last Alaska Railroad fatality came on Halloween night of 2009, Sullivan said, when a 72-year-old woman was struck by a coal train snowplow while she stood by the tracks near Potter Marsh trying to take a picture of the sunset.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News