19 October 2010

Valdez Pipeyard RR, Pt 1


They used the ex Army 45 tonners. ARR acquired 4 of them in 1974, and retired them in 1983. Except for the Valdez work, and one that was leased to the North Pole refinery for a very short time, they saw little work. Alaska Railroad did not own SW-1500's. The last SW-1 left shortly before the little 45 tonners arrived.

(Curt Fortenberry, Alaska Railroad historian)

It was not until the advent of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline that Valdez again became a major transportation center. During the pipeline construction, Valdez had a short railroad consisting of twp ex-ARR 45-tonners, no. 7324 and no. 7249 that worked on the dock.

(Cliff Howard, author)

The Alaska Railroad has about 1/4 mile of trackage and a small barge slip in Valdez (Val-Deez). It is unused now but it did have approximately 1 1/2 miles of rail during the pipeline. The sections of the 40' x 48" pipe were welded together as 80' sections and coated in Valdez, then loaded on flat cars and brought to Whittier. Cars of equipment,cement and steel were loaded on the small 4 track barges for Valdez.

The Alaska Railroad had a small "Whiting" car mover in Valdez. As the traffic grew the ARR obtained 4, GE 50 ton locomotives from the US Army for use in Valdez. The ARR only managed to put 2 into service, the others cannibalized for spares. The locomotives then were used as switchers in the MAPCO refinery in North Pole until worn/burnt out. The Transportation Museum has one in it's display inventory. The "wild hair" for ARR train crews is that the Valdez locomotives were operated by the Operating Engineers Local 302, Heavy Equipment Operators.

(Frank Dewey, Alaska Railroad engineer)

"After the 1964 earthquake, some of the lands that were heavily damaged as a result of the "64" quake in Valdez was taken over by the U.S. Government.

"In the 1970's the Government excessed that property and the Alaska Railroad requested ownership-transfer of those lands (about 80 acres) to support the logistical movement of pipe for the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Since no other Federal activity (agency) was interested in those properties, the Alaska Railroad became the owner free and clear. We laid tracks from the dock in Valdez to the property where pipe was off-loaded and stored on the newly acquired property.

"The land is still owned by the Railroad and is currently leased. "
--Jim Blasingame, Alaska Railroad Vice President, Corporate Affair 

Update: I am told that the land has since been sold to Wilson Brothers and will continue to be used for industrial purposes. 
(Click image for larger one)

"As to the question, why was the pipe processed in Valdez and then sent via barge to Whittier? You must first grasp the scope of the pipeline project and the cost of infrastructure required to build it. Then you need to grasp the weather along the route and the terrain northbound out of Valdez. The Richardson Hwy is two lanes with steep grades up over Thompson Pass and it is real dicey in the winter time. Divide 800 miles by 80 foot sections and figure out how many truck loads that will be just for the pipe! 

"The challenge was to coordinate pipe delivery to several points on the pipeline corridor to allow simultaneous construction from several points, keeping the truck haul over public roads to a minimum. There was a pipe coating plant on the north slope where 40 ft sections were delivered by barge, welded cleaned coated and sent south down the North Slope Haul Road (Dalton Highway) that was closed to the public during the pipeline days. This was a gravel/ice road.

"Pipe was delivered from Japan in 40 ft sections to Valdez on ships and off loaded for processing in the pipe coating plant located about one mile away. These plants were about 500 ft long built of folding sections of steel buildings and represented sizable investments.

"Valdez being a deep water port could receive the raw pipe, and materials for the processing in bulk. As the specific sections of pipe were processed they were dispatched as needed from Valdez. Each section was built to design for a specific location in the line and varied in thickness, coating and finish depending on where it was to be used, at the top of a grade, bottom of a valley, under a river, buried or elevated above ground. Specialty sections with bends, joints, pump station hardware etc. were usually trucked north. Pipe required between Valdez and Delta Junction would move north over the highway.

"More or less standard 80 ft sections were loaded on 40 ft flats with intermediate idlers and placed on barges for the trip from Valdez to Whittier. At Whittier they rolled across the car float and were made into trains that traveled through the tunnels to Anchorage. At Anchorage they were incorporated into regular north bound freight trains to Fairbanks. I am not sure where they were unloaded in Fairbanks but they could be distributed both North on the Dalton Hwy or South on the Richardson Hwy as needed. 

"I worked for Pictures Incorporated during the boom days, providing nightly movie entertainment in 13 construction camps up and down the line. As a result I had the privilege of traveling the length of the facility in both summer and winter consulting on equipment and facilities for the entertainment program. Few people on the project outside of top management got to see the whole project, and the sheer volume of equipment, materials and people was overwhelming. So moving all that stuff north out of Valdez on the Richardson Highway in addition to the construction on the south end would have been like a dose of Kayopectate.

"As I recall there was a problem with the north bound sea lift that summer that would have taken more materials to the North Slope. Ice conditions or lack of barges for the sea lift resulted in more of the pipe coming into Valdez and being processed there resulting in a mini boom for the Alaska Railroad. There is reference to this in the Alaska Railroad Annual report of the period along with the only photo I have ever seen of the yard there. The photographer was the famous industrial photographer, Stanley McCutchen. There must be some other views." 

--Pat Durand, Alaska Railroad historian

The pipeline railroad yard in Valdez (click)

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