The Alaska Railroad (reporting mark ARR) is a Class II railroad which extends from Seward and Whittier, in the south of the state of Alaska, in the United States, to Fairbanks (passing through Anchorage), and beyond to Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright in the interior of that state. Uniquely (for the US), it carries both freight and passengers throughout its system, including Denali National Park. The railroad has a mainline over 470 miles (760 km) long and is well over 500 miles (800 km) including branch lines and siding tracks. It is currently owned by the state of Alaska. The railroad is connected to the contiguous 48 via three rail barges that sail between the Port of Whittier, Alaska and Harbor Island in Seattle (the Alaska Railroad-owned Alaska Rail Marine, and the CN Rail-owned Aqua Train, from Whittier to Prince Rupert, British Columbia) but does not currently have a direct, land-based connection with any other railroad lines on the North American network. In 2016, the company suffered a net loss of $4.3 million on revenues of $169.8 million, holding $1.1 billion in total assets.
An Alaska Railroad passenger excursion train at Spencer Glacier.
|Type||Inter-city passenger and freight|
|Owner||State of Alaska|
|Line length||470 mi (760 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8½ in (1.435 m)|
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. The President, William Howard Taft, authorized a commission to survey a route in 1912. The line would be more than 470 miles (760 km) long and provide an all-weather route to the interior. 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) 3 ft (914 mm) (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 section between Fairbanks and Happy was converted to dual gauge in order to complete the 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge line from Seward to Fairbanks. The government extended the south portion of the track to Nenana and later converted the extension to standard gauge. The Alaska Railroad continued to operate the remaining TVRR narrow gauge line as the Chatanika Branch, until decommissioning it in 1930.
In 1923 they built the 700-foot (213 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 part of the US Department of the Interior.
The Alaska Railroad's first diesel locomotive entered service in 1944. The railroad retired its last steam locomotive in 1966.
The railroad was greatly affected 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 1967, the railroad was transferred to the Federal Railroad Administration, an agency within the newly created US Department of Transportation.
In 1985, the state of Alaska bought the railroad from the U.S. government for $22.3 million, based on a valuation determined by the US Railway Association. The state immediately invested over $70 million on improvements and repairs that made up for years of deferred maintenance. The purchase agreement prohibits the Alaska Railroad from paying dividends or otherwise returning capital to the state of Alaska (unlike the other Alaska quasi-entities: Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC), and Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA)).
As of April 2010, an extension of the railroad from Fairbanks to Delta Junction is planned, having been proposed as early as 2009. Originally, the extension was to be completed by 2010, but construction of a major bridge across the Tanana River has barely begun, and construction of track has not started. A proposed 2011 Alaska state budget would provide $40 million in funding for the bridge, which would initially be for vehicular use, but would support Alaska Railroad trains once construction of track to Delta Junction began. The United States Department of Defense would provide another $100 million in funds, as the bridge and subsequent rail line would provide year-round access to Fort Greely and the Joint Tanana Training Complex. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Tanana River Bridge took place on September 28, 2011. The new bridge was opened (for military road traffic only) in 2014.
There are plans to provide commuter rail service within the Anchorage metropolitan area (Anchorage to Mat-Su Valley via Eagle River, north Anchorage to south Anchorage) but that requires additional tracks be laid due to a heavy freight schedule.
A spur line was built to Ted Stevens International Airport in 2003, along with a depot at the airport, but the line never received scheduled service. It is not open to the public, but cruise lines can charter trains to the airport to bring passengers to cruise ships. The Alaska Railroad currently leases the airport depot, officially named after Bill Sheffield, to citizens for private events including conferences, seminars, and corporate functions.
For 1890-1999 refer to Canada Alaska Railway.
In 2001 federal legislation, sponsored by U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska, and later state governor of Alaska), formed a bilateral commission to study feasibility of building a rail link between Canada and Alaska; Canada was asked to be part of the commission, but the Canadian federal government did not choose to join the commission and commit funds for the study. The Yukon territorial government showed some interest.
A June 2006 report by the commission has recommended Carmacks, Yukon, as a hub. A line would go northward to Delta Junction, Alaska (Alaska Railroad's northern end-of-track). Another line would go from Carmacks to Hazelton, British Columbia (which is served by the CN), and that line would go through Watson Lake, Yukon, and Dease Lake, British Columbia, along the way. The third line would go from Carmacks to either Haines or Skagway, Alaska (the latter by way of the vicinity of Whitehorse, Yukon, which are both served by the 3 ft (914 mm) (narrow-gauge) White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad), although today the White Pass & Yukon only goes as far north as Carcross, Yukon, because the entire line was embargoed in 1982 and service has not been completely restored.
Following the demise of the ill-fated Keystone Pipeline, the Alaska Canada Rail Link (ACRL) was rekindled as an alternative. In November 2015, the National Post reported that a link between the southern provinces and the Alaska Railroad was again being considered by the Canadian federal government, this time routing to Alberta. In this scenario, the route would originate at Delta Junction, Alaska and use Carmacks, Yukon as a hub, like prior plans. The route would continue through Watson Lake, Yukon before entering British Columbia, where it would stop at Fort Nelson, British Columbia. It would continue to Peace River, Alberta, with its southern terminus at Fort McMurray. The route is endorsed by the Assembly of First Nations. It is unclear whether this rail connection would ever be expanded to also serve passengers, like the Alaska Railroad.
The railroad is a major tourist attraction in the summer. Coach cars feature wide windows and domes. 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.
In 2011 the Alaska Railroad reacquired ARR 557, the last steam locomotive bought new by the railroad and the last steam locomotive used by the railroad, with the intent to refurbish and operate it in special excursions between Anchorage and Portage.
A USATC S160 "2-8-0 Consolidation" engine built in 1944 by Baldwin Locomotive Works, 557 was originally coal-fired, but was converted to oil in 1955. It operated until 1964, when it was deemed surplus and sold as scrap. It was purchased by Monte Holm of Moses Lake, Washington and displayed in his House of Poverty Museum.
After Holm's death in 2006, Jim and Vic Jansen bought 557 from the museum and returned it to the Alaska Railroad on the condition that it be restored to operation and put into service.
The locomotive was sold to the non-profit Engine 557 Restoration Company for "One Dollar ($1.00) and other good and valuable considerations" and they have invested (as of January, 2019) 77 months and over 75,000 hours of volunteer time in the restoration and overhaul.
The Alaskan Engineering Commission (AEC) was a U.S. Federal agency, sometimes known by its initials or by alternate spelling Alaska Engineering Commission. It was created by the Alaska Railroad Act in 1914, by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, in order to arrange for construction of a railway system in Alaska. William C. Edes was named chairman, chief engineer Colonel Frederick Mears. In 1915, the AEC became part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1923, after the railroad began operation and construction was complete, it became the Alaska Railroad Commission, later renamed to The Alaska Railroad.Among other accomplishments, it designed and/or built a number of works listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.Works include:
Mears Memorial Bridge, built in 1923
A. E. C. Cottage No. 23, 618 Christensen Dr. Anchorage, Alaska, NRHP-listed
Alaska Engineering Commission Cottage No. 25, 645 W. Third Ave., Anchorage, AK, NRHP-listed
Pioneer School House, 3rd Ave. and Eagle St., Anchorage, AK, NRHP-listed
Seward Depot, 501 Railway Ave. Seward, Alaska, NRHP-listed
Wasilla Depot, Parks Highway and Knik Rd. Wasilla, Alaska, NRHP-listed
Whitney Section House, 3400 W. Neuser Dr., Wasilla, AK, NRHP-listedAnchorage Depot
Anchorage Depot, also known as Alaska Railroad Depot, is the railroad station at the center of the Alaska Railroad system at the junction of the two main lines their trains run on. It serves as the starting point for many tourists traveling on the luxury trains such as the Denali Star. The station is a Moderne-style three story concrete building, built in 1942 and enlarged in 1948.It is located at the base of a hill, below downtown Anchorage. It measures 338 feet (103 m) by 45 feet (14 m).
In 1999, it was deemed significant in the history of transportation in Alaska and nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The depot, built of concrete and steel and well-equipped, was held to represent the railroad's transition from wooden structures and equipment inadequate for challenges of the World War II era and since.It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 27, 1999.Anton Anderson
Anton Albert Andrew Anderson (1892–1960) was chief engineer of the Alaska Railroad and served as Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska from 1956 to 1958. He has been called "Mr. Alaska Railroad".Aurora Winter Train
The Aurora Winter Train, operated by the Alaska Railroad, provides passenger service between the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. It is a seasonal train, only operating during the non-summer months. It is similar to the Hurricane Turn in that in addition to its scheduled stops it makes flag stops, making its schedule unpredictable. The northbound train operates on Saturdays, while the southbound train operates on Sundays.Bill Sheffield
William Jennings Sheffield Jr. (born June 26, 1928) is an American Democratic politician who was the fifth governor of Alaska from 1982 to 1986. Sheffield's term in the governor's mansion was marked by controversy including attempts to have him impeached.Coastal Classic
The Coastal Classic is a passenger and semi-luxury train operated by the Alaska Railroad between the cities of Anchorage and Seward, Alaska. It is a seasonal train, only operating between the months of May and September. The train is popular among tourists visiting the glaciers.Denali Star
The Denali Star is a passenger and semi-luxury train operated by the Alaska Railroad between the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks Alaska. It is a seasonal train, only operating between the months of May and September. The Aurora Winter Train operates along the similar route during the rest of the year at a less frequent weekend schedule. The train is ridden by many tourists visiting the Denali National Park. The train consists of single level coaches and dome cars.EMD GP49
An EMD GP49 is a 4-axle road switcher diesel locomotive built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division. Power was provided by an EMD 645F3B 12-cylinder engine which generated 2,800 horsepower (2.09 MW). The GP49 was marketed as one of four models in the 50 series introduced in 1979. The 50 series includes GP/SD49 and GP/SD50. Both the GP and SD50 was relatively popular with a total of 278 GP50s and 427 SD50s built. The SD49 was advertised but never built and a total of 9 GP49s were built.
Alaska Railroad is the only company that ordered it in two orders; the first was ARR 2801-2804 under order number 837049-1-4, built in September 1983 and the second was ARR 2805-2809 under order number 847035-1-5, built in May 1985. Six GP39Xs were built in November 1980 for the Southern Railway under order Number 786284-1-6 and upgraded to GP49s shortly thereafter.EMD MRS-1
The EMD MRS-1 is a type of road switcher diesel-electric locomotive built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division for the United States Army Transportation Corps (USATC) in 1952. They were built with multigauge trucks and to a narrow loading gauge for service anywhere in the world in the event of war. Thirteen of the locomotives were built, with serial numbers 15873–15885. At almost $500,000 each in 1952 dollars,
more than three times the price of a standard locomotive of the period,
these were very expensive locomotives.
Declared un-needed for wartime operations in about 1970, they were then used on various military bases around the United States, with some serving on the Alaska Railroad. Five locomotives are preserved, three currently in operating condition.Fairbanks Depot
Fairbanks Depot is a freight and passenger railroad station in Fairbanks, Alaska. The station is the northern terminus for Alaska Railroad's Denali Star and Aurora Winter Train routes.Glacier Discovery
The Glacier Discovery is a passenger train operated by the Alaska Railroad between the towns of Anchorage, Whittier Alaska and the rail station known as Grandview. It is a seasonal train, only operating between the months of May and September.Hurricane Turn
The Hurricane, or Hurricane Turn, is a passenger train operated by the Alaska Railroad between Talkeetna and Hurricane Gulch in Alaska. This train is unique in that rather than making scheduled station stops, it is a flag stop train meaning that passengers between Talkeetna and Hurricane can wave a white cloth anywhere along the route and the train will stop to pick them up. The train runs Thursday-Sunday between the months of May and September and the first Thursday of every month the rest of the year.Effective 2009 the Budd Rail Diesel Cars are no longer used on the Hurricane Turn. Current configuration is two locomotives, two passenger cars and one baggage car.
The Hurricane Turn is one of the last true flag-stop trains in the United States.Matanuska-Susitna Valley
Matanuska-Susitna Valley () (known locally as the Mat-Su or The Valley) is an area in Southcentral Alaska south of the Alaska Range about 35 miles (56 km) north of Anchorage, Alaska.
It is known for the world record sized cabbages and other vegetables displayed annually in Palmer at the Alaska State Fair.
It includes the valleys of the Matanuska, Knik, and Susitna Rivers.
11,000 of Mat-Su Valley residents commute to Anchorage for work (as of 2008).
It is the fastest growing region in Alaska and includes the towns of Palmer, Wasilla, Big Lake, Houston, Willow and Talkeetna.The valleys are shaped by three mountain ranges: the Alaska Range, the Talkeetna Mountains and the Chugach Mountains. The Matanuska-Susitna Valley was carved by glaciers
leaving thousands of lakes.
The Mat-Su rivers and lakes are home to the spawning grounds of chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, and chum salmon.
The area is home to 31 state parks and campgrounds.The 23,000-square-mile (60,000 km2) Matanuska-Susitna Borough (the Alaskan equivalent of a county) governs the Mat-Su Valley.
According to the 2010 Census, the borough's population is 88,995, a 50% increase since 2000.The area now known as Palmer was first inhabited by Athabaskan Indians. Wasilla was first inhabited by the Dena'ina Indians. The city was founded when the Alaska Railroad was constructed in 1917. Knik, the first boom-town in the valley, predates Wasilla. In 1893 the Alaska Commercial Company was built at Knik, and in 1898 Knik was settled by trappers and gold miners. Talkeetna began in the late 1890s, with the construction of a trading station and later the Alaska Railroad. Today, Talkeetna serves as the starting point for mountaineers who climb Denali.The Mat-Su Valley was explored by Russians in 1818.
In 1935, as part of the New Deal 203 families from the Midwest travelled to Alaska and started the Matanuska Valley Colony. Families were specifically chosen from the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, due to their similarly cold winter climates.The 1939 Slattery Report on Alaskan development identified the region as one of the areas where new settlements would be established through Jewish immigration. This plan was never implemented.
The region is also home to the Matanuska-Susitna College
and the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper.Seward, Alaska
Seward (Alutiiq: Qutalleq) is an incorporated home rule city in Alaska, United States. Located on Resurrection Bay, a fjord of the Gulf of Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula, Seward is situated on Alaska's southern coast, approximately 120 miles by road from Alaska's largest city, Anchorage, and nearly 1,300 miles from the closest point in the contiguous United States at Cape Flattery, Washington.
With an estimated permanent population of 2,831 people as of 2017, Seward is the fourth-largest city in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, behind Kenai, Homer, and the borough seat of Soldotna. The city is named for former U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who orchestrated the United States' purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867 while serving in this position as part of President Andrew Johnson's administration.
Seward is the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad and the historic starting point of the original Iditarod Trail to the Alaskan interior, with Mile 0 of the trail marked on the shoreline at the southern end of town.Single-Level Dome
The Single-Level Dome, also known as the Panorama Dome, is a type of dome coach manufactured by Colorado Railcar for various operators between 1997–2007. They are similar in concept to the company's bilevel Ultra Domes.Steamboats of the Yukon River
Steamboats on the Yukon River played a role in the development of Alaska and Yukon. Access to the interior of Alaska and Yukon was hindered by large mountains and distance, but the wide Yukon River provided a feasible route. The first steamers on the lower Yukon River were work boats for the Collins Overland Telegraph in 1866 or 1867, with a small steamer called Wilder. The mouth of the Yukon River is far to the west at St. Michael and a journey from Seattle or San Francisco covered some 4,000 miles (6,400 km).Talkeetna Depot
Talkeetna Depot is a freight and passenger railroad station in Talkeetna, Alaska. The station offers service for the Alaska Railroad's Denali Star and Aurora Winter Train routes.Tanana Valley Railroad
The Tanana Valley Railroad (TVRR) was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad that operated in the Tanana Valley of Alaska from 1905 to about 1917. A portion of the railroad later became part of the Alaska Railroad.Wasilla Depot
The Wasilla Depot was built in 1917 in Wasilla, Alaska. It was designed and built by the Alaska Engineering Commission, a federal agency charged with building Alaska's railways. The structure, located at the corner of Parks Highway and Main Street, was restored by the Lions Clubs and the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce.The building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Alaska Railroad System Map
Named trains of the Alaska Railroad
See also: Former carriers in Alaska · List of United States railroads by political division
Regional railroads of North America
(as of 2006)