With less freight, Alaska Railroad wants to start renting out its locomotives

In response to declining freight in recent years and in search of new revenue, the Alaska Railroad Corp. is seeking bids for rentals of its locomotives.

The railroad on Friday put out a request for proposals for a new locomotive leasing program, seeking to rent out possibly eight to 12 of its 51 locomotives between Oct. 15 and April 1. That's the railroad's slower time of year in terms of locomotive demand.

Between 2008 and 2015, the railroad saw a significant reduction in the amount of freight it moves annually, from 6.7 million tons to 4.3 million tons, said Alaska Railroad External Affairs Manager Tim Sullivan.

A big part of that drop comes from moving less refined petroleum and coal exports, Sullivan said. So the railroad is seeking opportunities elsewhere, specifically in the Lower 48.

"We're constantly looking for new revenue sources," he said. "There have been some reductions lately with a couple of our bigger freight lines between moving coal and moving jet fuel and refined petroleum products. With reductions in that overall, we see that we have some excess (locomotives)."

Locomotives would be shipped out to whatever entity leases them, with the point of acceptance and return being in Seattle.

Sullivan said that this is not an uncommon practice at other railroads.

"At this point, we're just putting out the feelers to see if anybody might be interested," he said.

During the summer, moving more passengers amid tourist season and also transporting a large amount of gravel uses up more of the locomotive fleet.

"In summertime, freight activity picks up," Sullivan said. "That's always been the case."

The railroad is accepting proposals for the program through the end of March. Sullivan said it's not clear yet how much money might be generated by renting out locomotives, and the state-owned corporation wants to see how much money potential bidders offer before putting out a price.

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