An Alaska Railroad train hit a sled dog team Friday morning at a crossing north of Nenana, killing two dogs, a railroad spokesman said Saturday.
The musher was on a four-wheeler pulled by dogs on a training run and approached the tracks at what is known as Manley road crossing, said Tim Sullivan, the railroad's external affairs director. Sullivan did not name the musher, saying the man asked not to be named and the railroad has no reason to do so.
The crossing has no arms or other barriers but is marked with the standard railroad crossing sign, and the crew also sounded a warning with the whistle, Sullivan said.
The road had snow and ice on it, "and that's why the four-wheeler didn't stop," Sullivan said. Before there's enough snow for mushers to train on a sled, they often use four-wheelers. Normally when a musher puts on the vehicle's brakes, the team halts right away. Not this time.
According to what the train crew relayed, the musher was trying to stop short of the tracks, but the dogs pulled on.
"They stopped a little bit over the tracks, and with the train coming, the musher tried to get them to go again," Sullivan. "The dogs would not go. They were panicked because of the train coming."
The train hit the team. There was no way the crew could stop the coal train in time, Sullivan said. He didn't know how fast the train was going, but the train speed limit in that area, 8 miles north of Nenana, is 49 mph.
"A fully loaded train could take several football fields to stop," he said.
Besides the two dogs killed, no others were hurt. Neither the musher nor anyone on the train was injured. The train stopped for about an hour and half, then continued on south.
"It's a shame about the dogs," Sullivan said. But the accident also is hard for the railroad, he said.
"Our crews are about as Alaskan as you get. Sled dogs are one of those things that we all look upon and think, 'Gosh, this is truly Alaskan.' To come through that — it's been tough on our crew."
The crew sounded the whistle Friday, though Sullivan didn't know if that occurred before or after they saw the dog team.