THE ALASKA RAILROAD

The Alaska Railroad is a Class II railroad that operates between Anchorage, Seward, and Whittier to the south and Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks to the north. The railroad which is owned by the State of Alaska has a mainline over 470 miles (756 kms) long and is well over 500 miles (about 805 kms) including branch lines and sidings.

The rail system carries passengers, freight, as well as mail. And during the summer, several rail tours operate in conjunction with various train routes that cater mostly to visitors and tourists. The trains take you to wild and remote locations along Alaska’s rail system and allow more time for viewing scenery and animals in the wild, and mingling with the locals as well.

It was in 1985, when the State of Alaska bought the railroad from the U.S. government for $22.3 million dollars. The state has since invested over $70 million dollars on improvements and repairs that made up for years of deferred maintenance.

Passengers are now able to travel in style aboard state-of-the-art deluxe domed rail service. Deluxe domed railcars are available on the Denali Star from Anchorage to Fairbanks, which stops in Talkeetna and Denali. The GoldStar car is available on the Coastal Classic between Anchorage and Seward. Different tour companies such as Princess Cruises and Holland America Cruises also have their own deluxe domed railcars which hooks up with locomotives of Alaska Railroad. These double-decker domed railcar accommodates 72 passengers and offers 360-degree views and an open air viewing platform. The domed railcar also has its own dining areas as well as a bar to cater to the needs of its passengers.

During our 5-day land tour of Alaska (June 4 to 9, 2008), Nena and I had the opportunity to travel on board the deluxe domed railcars of Princess Cruises. The three train routes we took were:

  1. Fairbanks to Denali
  2. Denali to Talkeetna
  3. Talkeetna to Whittier

The first train ride we took departed from Fairbanks at about 9:00 am and it was already mid-afternoon when we made it to Denali. Luckily, we already had lunch on the train's dining car while enroute to Denali. It was a scenic train ride and we saw beautiful views of mountains, rivers, hills and forests. We spent two nights in Denali at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge which is owned and operated by Princess Cruises. It was when we were still in Denali that we had the chance to go on a whole day tour of the Denali Tundra Wilderness Park which allowed us to see the different animals in the wild such as the grizzly bear, caribou, fox, dall sheep, moose, and also eagles and owls. Smaller animals, such as hoary marmots, arctic ground squirrels, beavers, pikas, and snowshoe hares are also seen in abundance.

Our second train ride took us from Denali to Talkeetna. This allowed us to see breathtaking scenic views along the way and some sightings of wild animals as well. By car, Talkeetna is a 2.5-hour drive from Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. The core downtown area of Talkeetna is classified as a National Historic site, with many buildings dating from the early 1900's including Nagleys General Store, Fairview Inn and The Roadhouse. Upon our arrival at the Talkeetna train depot, we then motored by buses to the McKinley Wilderness Lodge where we stayed overnight. A number of people in our tour group spent some time at Talkeetna to look around but Nena and I decided to go straight to the lodge since we just wanted to rest after the long train ride. We were hoping to get a glimpse of Mt. McKinley during our stay at the lodge, however, it was heavily covered with clouds that all we saw was the base of this majestic mountain. Mount McKinley or Denali "The Great One" is the highest mountain peak in North America, at a height of approximately 20,320 feet (6,194 m). It is the centerpiece of Denali National Park.

It was on our 5th and last day of our land tour of Alaska that we boarded our third train ride from Talkeetna to Whittier. We passed through Anchorage before heading to the port city of Whittier where we were to board our cruise ship, the Island Princess. Whittier, which is popular with tourists and sport fishermen, is 120 kms (75 mi) southeast of Anchorage. It is a popular port of call for cruise ships, as it has connections to Anchorage and the interior of Alaska by both highway and rail. It is the embarkation and debarkation point of the Denali Express nonstop rail service to and from Denali National Park operated by Princess Tours. Before reaching Whittier, our train passed through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This tunnel goes through Maynard Mountain and links the Seward Highway south of Anchorage with the relatively isolated seaport community of Whittier. It is part of the Portage Glacier Highway and at 13,300 feet (4,050 m), is the second longest highway tunnel and longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America.

When Nena and I took the three train rides I mentioned above, I was able to take hundreds of photographs and have selected 119 of these to accompany this travelogue. All you need to do is click on the link shown below. For our train ride from Fairbanks to Denali, you will get to see the first 58 photographs. I have included photographs I took of the Bear Lodge where we were billeted during our two-night stay in Fairbanks and also a few pictures at the Denali Wilderness Lodge. Also portrayed are 38 photographs that were taken during our second train ride from Denali to Talkeetna which includes photographs taken at the McKinley Wilderness Lodge. The remaining 23 photographs were taken during our third train ride from Talkeetna to Whittier where we boarded the Island Princess for our 7-day cruise down to Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Alaska Railroad

Enjoy your cyberspace train ride on the Alaska Railroad.



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