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Alaska Railroad back on track after repair of ice-jam damage

A 7-foot “wall of ice” from a Susitna River ice jam slammed into Alaska Railroad tracks north of Talkeetna after flooding on Saturday, May 12, 2018, pushing the rails 25 feet off course. (Photo courtesy Alaska Railroad)

The Alaska Railroad resumed train service north of Talkeetna late Tuesday after crews repaired damage from flooding and an ice jam — just in time for the Wednesday start of the tourist season.

"All trains are running," Tim Sullivan of the Alaska Railroad Corp. said early Wednesday.

He added in an email: "Just. In. Time."

Flooding and a 7-foot "wall of ice" from a Susitna River ice jam near Curry damaged the tracks, leaving a roughly 1,000-foot section shoved about 25 feet off the railbed.

Service ground to a halt Saturday as crews scrambled to make repairs.

The work will cost "well over $1 million," though an exact amount has not been determined, Sullivan said.

Operations resumed Tuesday overnight with a freight train running from Anchorage to Fairbanks, said Sullivan.

Flooding and overflow ice shut down Alaska Railroad train service north of Talkeetna on Saturday morning, May 12, 2018. (Courtesy Alaska Railroad)

And at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Denali Star train carrying tourists left Anchorage for Fairbanks. The service marked the start of the Alaska Railroad's busy five-month summer season sending cruise ship passengers north to view Denali.

More than 1,000 passengers will make the trip daily, a huge jump from winter passenger numbers of about 200 on weekend trips.

The damage occurred on the train's original route, installed around 1920 when it was owned by the federal government, he said. The railroad was transferred to the state in 1985.

Crews in heavy equipment reset the trackbed after removing huge blocks of river ice and shoving boulders and rocks back in place, said Sullivan.

It's "absolutely" safe, Sullivan said. "That's why we ran the freight train service first."

"Crews are on site to continue cleanup and be there should any other issues arrive," Sullivan said.

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