Girdwood, Alaska/Alaska Railroad Commuter Rail
Alaska Railroad Commuter Rail
The Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) is proposing improvements to a segment of railroad between Girdwood and Wasilla, Alaska. The project consists of three elements. Two elements involve curve straightening of the existing alignment north of Anchorage from the town of Eagle River to the Knik River, and from the Knik River to Wasilla. The curve-straightening project will reduce travel time between Anchorage and Wasilla by 50 minutes, and improve safety for passengers and freight. The third element involves the double-tracking of an approximately 5-mile section of the line south of Anchorage toward Girdwood. The double-tracking will increase speeds and facilitate operations in an industrial area of Anchorage where many ARRC freight customers are located. ARRC operates both freight and passenger service over the sections of trackage to be improved. The passenger service is primarily geared toward serving tourists between the months of May and September.
The total budget for this project is $69.6 million in current dollars. In FY 2001, the Girdwood Commuter Rail Project (including North Anchorage) received a New Start earmark $14.9 million. Because the proposed New Starts share is less than $25 million, the project is exempt from the New Starts criteria, and is thus not subject to FTA’s evaluation and rating (TEA-21 Section 5309(e)(8)(A)).
The existing rail line currently carries passenger service, but at slow speeds averaging approximately 2-miles per hour on 12 curves on a 13-mile stretch of track. In 1999 the ARRC undertook a study of its system titled the Woodside Study, which assessed the overall condition of the railroad and the ability to undertake various types of improvements, including commuter rail. During 2000, the study identified the benefits of incrementally improving the performance of the railroad on its existing right-of-way.
In June 2000, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved entry into preliminary engineering (PE) for the Alaska Railroad Curve Straightening and Double Tracking Project. FTA’s Regional Administrator was given authority and responsibility for approving the initiation of PE for the Alaska Railroad project that received a New Start earmark of $9.9 million in the FY 2000 appropriations act. The project was approved for entry into PE in June 2000. Through FY 2001, Congress has appropriated $24.66 million in Section 5309 New Starts funding for the commuter rail system.
The project will be fully funded by the current earmark and matching funds. Additional New Starts funds will not be needed in the future to complete the project, although the AARC does intend to continue to seek Section 5309 funding for other projects. The project is under $25 million in New Start funding and is, therefore, exempt from the New Starts rating process.
The ARRC operates both freight and passenger service over the sections of trackage to be improved. The passenger service is primarily geared toward serving tourists between the months of May and September.