Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ghost train stops traffic on Richardson Highway

For about 45 minutes between 12 Mile Village and North Pole on Wednesday January 11, 2012, traffic was backed up at an Alaska Railroad in Fairbanks, California by an unknown source.
FAIRBANKS — A “ghost train” stopped traffic on the Richardson Highway for about 45 minutes between 12 Mile Village and North Pole Wednesday.

At 7:55 p.m., a technical malfunction in a piece of equipment caused the gates to go down for about 45 to 55 minutes, even though there was no train present, said Tim Sullivan, manager of external affairs for the Alaska Railroad Corp. in Anchorage.

The malfunction was in a piece of equipment called a solid-state crossing controller, he said. The gates closed because they are programmed to default in the closed position as a fail-safe measure, he said.

There was no reason to believe the equipment was intentionally tampered with, he said.

Railroad personnel were not immediately able to respond, but Alaska State Troopers were called to flag people through the crossing, Sullivan said.

North Pole resident Heather Zrucky was on her way back from a grocery shopping trip to Fairbanks when she came across several cars already backed up from the gates. Because it is a divided highway, drivers weren’t able to turn around and had to wait, she said.

“It was kind of funny,” she said. “People were getting out of their cars and socializing.”

By the time she was able to cross to North Pole, there were cars as far as she could see around a bend behind her. There were fewer cars waiting to go to Fairbanks, she said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.

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