KSKA reports that the Alaska Railroad is eliminating 52 positions from its workforce because of decreased fuel hauls from the Flint Hills Refinery in North Pole.
Not all of the 52 positions were filled, so not that many people will be losing their jobs.
The layoffs are part of a domino effect from loss of cargo flights from Asia. Cargo flights leave Asia and land in Alaska to refuel at Ted Stevens International Airport. In 2009, the number of cargo flights declined sharply. Combined with the rising price of energy and crude oil, Flint Hills was unable to compete with Asian fuel suppliers. The North Pole refinery was forced to shut down a jet fuel unit in 2010, and is now proceeding to close a second unit. With less jet fuel being shipped from Flint Hills to Anchorage via railroad, Alaska Railroad lost around $5 million, a 5 percent loss of freight revenue.
In 2008 and 2009, Alaska Railroad eliminated, reclassified or made seasonal 191 jobs. All together, 35 people were laid off. The railroad knew it would need to cut more jobs after the unforeseen revenue loss from Flint Hills.
State economist Neal Fried told KSKA, “You know, you never want to lose 50 jobs, certainly jobs like the Alaska Railroad jobs because they are above-average jobs. But when you look at our broader job market right now, there were better times to be looking for a job. But they’re better here in Alaska than in most other places.”