Alaska Railroad again in fight to clear weeds from track

The Alaska Railroad is revisiting the longest-running dispute in its 20-plus years as a state-owned carrier with a new application to use weed-killing herbicides on some sections of its track.

This time, railroad officials say they want to use a chemical that targets only plants and doesn't affect animals or fish. They say it will be heavily diluted, and would be used next year only along sections of track between Seward and Indian that are at least 100 feet from water bodies.

Critics say the railroad's weed-killer of choice is dangerous to people and animals, and that there's hardly any place along the railroad's line where water is far away.

Railroad vice president and chief operating officer Ernie Piper said this week that weeds and brush in and near the tracks have gotten out of hand, especially on the southern 90 miles of line between Indian and Seward.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the Alaska Railroad, has promised hefty fines and expensive operational restrictions — cutting the speed at which trains can move or emergency closures of some sections of track — if the tracks aren't cleaned up.

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