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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alaska Railroad

System map
Alaska Railroad System Map

Alaska Railroad train to Spencer Glacier.jpg
An Alaska Railroad passenger excursion train at Spencer Glacier.
Reporting mark ARR
Locale Alaska
Dates of operation 1914 (1914)–Present
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Length 470 mi (760 km)
Headquarters Anchorage, Alaska

The Alaska Railroad (reporting mark ARR) is a Class II railroad[1][2] 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, it carries both freight and passengers throughout its system, including Denali National Park (most other intercity passenger rail in the U.S.A. is carried on the Federal Amtrak system). The railroad has a mainline over 470 miles (760 km) long and is well over 500 miles (800 km) including branch lines and sidings. 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 in Seattle (the Alaska Railroad-owned Alaska Rail Marine, from Whittier to Seattle, and the CN Rail-owned Aqua Train, from Whittier to Prince Rupert, British Columbia) but does not currently have a fixed land connection with any other railroad lines on the North American network. In 2008, the company earned a profit of $12.5 million (down 23%) on revenues of $158.7 million (up 6.9%), $121.7 million of which was operating revenue (up 5.2%).[3][4][5]



An Alaska Railroad steam locomotive crossing the Tanana River on the ice at Nenana just prior to completion of the railroad in 1923.

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.

A 1915 photograph of the railroad under construction.

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 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 (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 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.[6]

An Alaska Railroad passenger train rolling between Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks.
An Alaska Railroad EMD SD70MAC locomotive pulling into Denali Station.

In 1985, the State of Alaska bought the railroad from the U.S. government for $22.3 million. 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)).

Proposed expansion

Currently (as of August 26, 2009), there is an extension of the railroad from Fairbanks to Delta Junction underway to handle the agricultural and construction activity in that region to be completed sometime in 2010, although they're unsure of the exact date[7]. 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 the Alaska railroads with the rest of the North American Rail Network; 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. 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[8][9][10][11], 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, due to the fact that the entire line was abandoned in 1982 and they have not yet completely restored service on the entire line[12]. There are plans to provide commuter rail service (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 will be built to Port Mackenzie, Alaska, a small port on the opposite side of the Knik Arm from Anchorage, and will be completed sometime during the year 2010.[13][14]


Presidents of the Alaska Railroad have included:

Routes and Tourism

The Alaska Railroad's "Glacier Discovery" train.
A passenger train pulls into the Denali Station in July 1998.

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 356 miles (573 km), 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 114-mile (183 km) journey takes around four and a half hours due to some slow trackage as the line winds its way over the mountains.
  • 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. It is a 12 hour ride and departs at 8:15 a.m.
  • 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.

In popular culture

  • The Alaska Railroad was prominently featured in the movie Runaway Train.
  • The Simpson family rides the Alaska Railroad in The Simpsons Movie, although the colors and configuration of both cars and engines are inaccurate.

See also


  1. ^ "Commuter Rail Safety Study". Office of Safety and Security, Federal Transit Administration, United States Department of Transporation. November 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-31.  
  2. ^ "FTA-MA-26-0052-04-1 Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned". Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Transit Administration; United States Department of Transporation. August 2002. Retrieved 2008-07-31.  
  3. ^ The Alaska Railroad - Annual Reports
  4. ^
  5. ^ Alaska Railroad registers lower freight, higher passenger revenue in 2006
  6. ^ McCulloch, David S.; Manuel G. Bonilla (1971). The Great Alaska Earthquake Of 1964, Vol 1, Part 2: Effects On The Alaska Railroad. Washington: National Academy of Sciences. pp. 543–640. Retrieved 2009-08-14.  
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c d The Alaska Railroad - History, accessed October 2008

General references

Historical References

External links

External images
RailPictures.Net – Alaska Railroad photographs at RailPictures.Net.
Railroad Picture Archives – Alaska Railroad photographs from Railroad Picture Archives.

Simple English

File:Alaska Railroad
map of the Alaska Railroad
File:The Alaska
Alaska Railroad train on a trestle

The Alaska Railroad is the main railroad in Alaska. It is owned by the state government of Alaska. It connects Alaska's two largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks. It also goes to Denali National Park, home of the tallest mountain in North America. There are short spur lines that go to North Pole, military bases, and through a tunnel to Whittier. It is not connected to any other railroads but it does go to the seaports in Seward, Anchorage, and Whittier and the big airport in Anchorage. Most railroads haul either people or freight, but the Alaska Railroad does both.

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