The Alaska Railroad Corporation and firefighters statewide are preparing for a first — transporting Alaska’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Alaska’s railroad was the first in the country to receive the necessary permit to be able to carry out the operation.
“We’re really proud to be the first railroad in the country to be able to ship LNG by rail,” said Tim Sullivan, external affairs manager for the Alaska Railroad.
Starting next Tuesday, the Alaska Railroad will make eight test runs to and from Fairbanks along the tracks to show that it can safely transport the flammable material. Two tanks provided by Japan’s Hitachi Group keep the gas at 260 degrees below zero, so Sullivan said if there were a leak, it wouldn’t likely be harmful.
“It’s transported so cold that if it vents into the atmosphere it disperses immediately, it doesn’t stay in a liquid form, hitting air temperature, it’s out and gone almost immediately,” Sullivan said.
Capt. Jared Stiglich, of Anchorage’s Fire Station 1 agreed.
“The risk of fire’s low, the biggest concern with LNG is that it’s at minus 260 degrees,” Stiglich said. “So any kind of incident is going to be an instant frostbite freeze situation, you’re not going to want that around anybody. It’s colorless and odorless so any kind of a vapor cloud might not be seen.”
Stiglich’s station got a briefing on rail equipment, just in case, which included learning about how the containers lock to the rail cars.
“When you lock it in, the twist lock actually locks against the container and the car itself,” said Richard Sarukus, who works in the railroad’s mechanical department, as he demonstrated how LNG tanks with would be attached to a train.
The railroad will give a similar briefing to first responders in Wasilla, Healy and Fairbanks this month.
The state is taking the lead on a natural gas pipeline project, known as AKLNG. If the project stays on schedule, it will produce gas by 2025.
But if all goes well this month, Sullivan said Alaskans could soon see hundreds of tanks on the tracks, marked “LNG.”
“This is just an interim solution,” Sullivan said. “This is something to do, to get done to make sure that we’re helping the folks in Fairbanks until the gas pipeline is built.”