Alaska Railroad adjusts course to deal with effects of Valley wildfires

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska Railroad had to stop some of its services this week through wildfire areas just north of Anchorage due to safety concerns and threats of the fire to the railroad itself.

"A forest fire is not something that the railroad controls, nor that anybody is able to control," said Tim Sullivan of the Alaska Railroad.

Along with the worries over safety of passengers and staff, certain parts of the railroad infrastructure - such as railroad ties, small structures, storage spaces and others - are especially flammable.

With wildfires spreading across the Valley, threatening people, homes and the railroad itself, the Alaska Railroad decided it was in everyone's best interest to instead bus passengers to their northerly destinations.

"It's quite an effort to find alternative means of transportation for folks," Sullivan said, "particularly this time of year when so many of the motor coaches are already taken up by people who are traveling."

Ship Creek, the home of the Alaska Railroad depot, was particularly quiet on Monday with tourists in other designated locations instead of boarding trains to get to hubs in and around Talkeetna and Denali. Usually, Sullivan said, trains are rumbling and lots of people are in the area milling about waiting for them to depart.

"All of that has been moved north or it's just not running right now," Sullivan said. "So it's awfully quiet, and the smoke isn't helping at all."

Many tourists who wouldn't go on camera said they were quite unhappy about the smoke. Others were doing their best to see the sights all the same.

"The smoke has made our day a little less pleasantable," said Todd Lunning, who was visiting Anchorage from Washington state. "I have to fight my way around with a knife to see where I'm going."

However, he and most everyone else were intent on enjoying Anchorage with or without the smoke.

"Even in the smoke," said William Vargo, who, along with wife Diane, was on his eleventh trip to Alaska.

"Every time, it's been an adventure," Diane said, "and every time, it's been something different. Every single time."

Sullivan said people are usually wandering in the area near the train depot, whether to see the trains, visit historic Ship Creek or take a quick break with a walk around the area.

"Quite a bit of them are indoors, I think, or found things rather than being outdoors to do," Sullivan said, "and that's quieted it up here as well."

Sullivan said the railroad is closely monitoring the situation and will change course as necessary with developments surrounding the wildfires.

Southbound routes to Seward and Whittier, for example, were still fully operational as of press time.

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