The Alaska Railroad
is a Class II railroad
which extends from Seward
, in the south of the state of Alaska
, in the United States
, to Fairbanks
, and beyond to Eielson Air Force Base
and Fort Wainwright
in the interior of that state. It carries both freight and passengers between those two cities and to many destinations between them, including Denali National Park
. The railroad
has a mainline over 470 miles (750 km) long and is well over including branch lines
. It is currently owned by the State of Alaska. The railroad is connected to the lower 48 via three rail barges
that sail between the Port of Whittier
and Harbor Island
but does not currently have a fixed land connection with any other railroad lines on the North American
network. In 2006, the company earned a profit of $10.4 million on revenues of $148.9 million, $132.7 million of which was operating revenue.
In 1903 a company called the Alaska Central Railroad began to build a rail line beginning at Seward, near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, northward. The company built 51 miles (82 km) of track by 1909 and went into receivership. This route carried passengers, freight and mail to the upper Turnagain Arm. From there, goods were taken by boat at high tide, and by dog team or pack train to Eklutna and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
In 1909, another company, the Alaska Northern Railroad Company, bought the rail line and extended it another 21 miles (34 km) northward. From the new end, goods were floated down the Turnagain Arm in small boats. The Alaska Northern Railroad went into receivership in 1914.
About this time, the United States Government was planning a railroad route from Seward to the interior town of Fairbanks. In 1914, the government bought the Alaska Northern Railroad and moved its headquarters to "Ship Creek," later called Anchorage. The government began to extend the rail line northward.
In 1917, the Tanana Valley Railroad in Fairbanks was heading into bankruptcy. It owned a small 45-mile (72 km) narrow-gauge line that serviced the towns of Fairbanks and the mining communities in the area as well as the boat docks on the Tanana River near Fairbanks.
The government bought the Tanana Valley Railroad, principally for its terminal facilities. The government extended the south portion of the track to Nenana and later converted the extension to standard gauge.
In 1923 they built the 700-foot (276 m) Mears Memorial Bridge across the Tanana River at Nenana. This was the final link in the Alaska Railroad and at the time, was the second longest single-span steel railroad bridge in the country. U. S. President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike that completed the railroad on July 15 1923 on the north side of the bridge.
The railroad was greatly impacted by the Good Friday Earthquake which struck southern Alaska in 1964. The yard and trackage around Seward buckled and the trackage along Turnagain Arm was damaged by floodwaters and landslides. It took several months to restore full service along the line.
In 1985, the State of Alaska bought the railroad from the US government for $22.3 million. The state immediately invested over $70 million on improvements and repairs that made up for years of deferred maintenance.
Currently, there is a proposal to extend the railroad from Fairbanks to Delta Junction
to handle the agricultural and construction activity in that region. Also, the United States government during the Clinton
administration formed an international commission to investigate the building of a rail link through the Yukon to connect British Columbia and Alaska railroads; Canada was asked to be part of the commission, but the Chrétien
(1993-2004) and Martin
(2004-2006) governments did not choose to join the commission and commit funds for the study; the Harper
government has not yet acted; the Yukon government is interested. A June 2006 report by the commission has recommended Carmacks, Yukon
as a hub with lines to Fairbanks (or Alaska Railroad's northern end-of-track), Terrace, British Columbia
and either Haines
or Skagway, Alaska
(the latter by way of the vicinity of Whitehorse, Yukon
, which are both served by the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Route
Railroad). There are plans to provide commuter rail service (Anchorage to Mat-Su Valley via Eagle River, north Anchorage to south Anchorage) but requires additional tracks be laid due to a heavy freight schedule.
Presidents of the Alaska Railroad have included:
Routes and Tourism
The railroad is a major tourist attraction in the summer. The Alaska railroad coach cars feature single-level seating throughout the train, with dome cars which are available for any passenger to enjoy. The wide windows on the cars and domes provide a great view to enjoy the Alaskan scenery. The Alaska Railroad began featuring GoldStar Service in 2005 which provides plush, luxury seating and dining for passengers willing to pay a moderate price. Private cars owned by the major cruise companies are towed behind the Alaska Railroad's own cars, and trips are included with various cruise packages.
- The Denali Star runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks (12 hours one-way) and back with stops in Talkeetna and Denali National Park, from which various flight and bus tours are available. Although the trip is only about , it takes 12 hours to travel from Anchorage to Fairbanks as the tracks wind through mountains and valleys; the train's top speed is 59 miles per hour but sometimes hovers closer to 30 miles per hour.
- The Coastal Classic winds its way south from Anchorage along Turnagain Arm before turning south to the Kenai Peninsula, eventually reaching Seward. This journey takes around four and a half hours due to some slow trackage as the line winds its way over the mountains through switchbacks.
- The Glacier Discovery provides a short (2 hour) journey south from Anchorage to Whittier for a brief stop before reversing direction for a stop at Grandview before returning to Anchorage in the evening.
- The Hurricane Turn provides rail service to people living between Talkeetna and the Hurricane area. This area has no roads, and the railroad provides the lifeline for residents who depend on the service to obtain food and supplies. One of the last flag-stop railway routes in the United States, passengers can board the Hurricane Turn anywhere along the route by waving a large white flag or cloth.
- The Aurora is available in winter months (September 15 - May 15) on a reduced weekend schedule (Northbound, Saturday mornings; Southbound, Sunday mornings) between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
- A spur providing service to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is used during the summer season for cruise ship service only. It was activated temporarily during the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) 2006 convention to provide airport-to-hotel mass transit for delegates.
- * Alaska Railroad official website
- * A current route map for the ARR