riffian wrote:Thanks for the detailed information. With no crew based in Whittier, does this mean the Anchorage road crew takes the train to Whittier, pulls and loads the barge, then builds the outbound train and take it back to Anchorage? Is this a once a week event and how many days does it take to accomplish it? As always, thank much for any info.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. How long it takes and how many crews it takes depends on the barge(s) and weather.
On a normal week, with only one barge in port at a time, and relatively good weather and cooperative tides, it takes two crews to do this. Usually the first crew heads south with about 7,000 feet of flat cars, typically loaded with empty containers. They arrive in Whittier and break up the train and spot it to the different load zones there for Alaska Marine Lines to offload the containers. Once the flats are all spotted, they usually offload the barge, and if time allows, block it to minimize switching in Anchorage. By the time they are done with that, they are usually right up to 12 hours and they tie up and go to a hotel in Whittier.
While the first crew is tied up, another crew comes on duty in Anchorage, with a second train. This train is typically made up of the outbound interchange cars and some more flats with empty containers on them. They go to Whittier, spot up the flats, and leave the interchange in one of the yard tracks. They then grab the interchange that came off the barge earlier, and as many flats that are loaded with containers off the barge as they can, and head back to Anchorage. Usually, with the switching in Whittier and the round trip, they have been on duty pretty close to their 12 hours by the time they arrive back in Anchorage. We usually call this the "turn crew."
The first crew usually comes back on duty as soon as they are rested, if that works with the tides. They usually start that shift off by loading the barge with the interchange that came down on the second train. Once the barge is loaded, they begin gathering up all the remaining flats in the yard and assemble the train. If the departing train will be more than about 6,600 feet, which is often, they wait to grab the last cut until right before the tunnel opens for rail traffic. Beyond that length, the train cannot fit between the tunnel and the only road crossing in town. Once put together, they head north. By the time they get to Anchorage, the crew is usually pretty close to their 12 hours.
If there are multiple barges arriving close together, which happens a bit in the winter, the crew that ties up in Whittier sometimes ties up for multiple days. Usually when that happens, multiple turn crews are sent in as well. Sometimes a barge will unload partially in Whittier, then make a run to Valdez to off load containers, before coming back to Whittier for loading. In those cases they usually try to send two turn crews, or deadhead one crew home and a new one down later, so no one has to sit around Whittier with nothing to do. Sometimes the crew that ties up in Whittier will leave with some cars for Crown Point or some other place, and do a little local work. Those are usually pretty good days, if you do have to tie up in Whittier multiple times.
As far as frequency, it is usually around once a week, but it all depends on the barge schedules. Typically a barge from Seattle arrives once a week, unless they are delayed by weather or something. The CN barge, which operates to from Prince Rupert, BC, just runs back and forth continuously, and is typically in Whittier about every eight to nine days, again, unless delayed by weather. Sometimes the schedule lines up so that the CN barge and the Seattle barge arrive within hours of each other, and other weeks they are separated by days.
The CN barge carries only rail cars, so if that is the only barge arriving for a few days, it is a much smaller operation. Typically it is handled by a single turn crew. They bring a train down with the outgoing interchange, off loaf the barge, back load the barge, and then bring the inbound interchange back to Anchorage.