August 7-17, 2004
We descend through Broad Pass, Colorado, and Honolulu before arriving at Hurricane Gulch. The train slows to a posted limit of 10 MPH to cross the trestle over Hurricane Gulch. The trestle is 914 feet long and 296 feet above the creek. It was completed in 1921. It and the flag stop just south of the trestle mark the end of daily service, in the winter, from Anchorage. At the present time this service is provided by several RDC cars owned by the ARR. The RDC train actually pulls onto the trestle while the crew changes ends with the control cab, allowing passengers a few minutes to enjoy the view.
As we pass the 279 mile post, south of Hurricane we are only 46 miles away from MT. McKinley the closest to the mountain that you get on the railroad. The smoke and haze are still with us today and there is no view of the mountain.
We continue to descend the south side of the mountain range crossing several rivers and streams and passing through the flag stops of Gold Creek, Sherman, Curry, Lane, and Chase before arriving at Talkeetna. This town of about 500 people is the point from most of the climbing and flights over Mt. McKinley depart. We stop for about 20 minutes to load and unload 25-30 passengers from the ARR part of the train. Also at this point the operational crew is changed as they are nearing 12 hours on duty from Fairbanks.
After we leave Talkeentna the land begins to flatten out and we enter the farming part of Alaska. Also in this area are a number of small lakes with many cabins and summer homes around them. The main town in this area is Wasilla. This town has several stores and motels. It has now developed into a bedroom community for Anchorage. This area gets 19 hours of summer sun which produces about 70% of all Alaskan-grown agricultural products.
At Matanuska a branch line leads to the farming community of Palmer 6 miles north of this junction. Also several coal mines were in this area at one time.
From here the tracks run along the south shore of the Knik arm of Cook Inlet. Much track realignment is going on in this area and slow orders are the order of the day. Most of this area is a suburban community about 10 miles from Anchorage. Also north of the track, south of Cook Inlet, is Elemendorf Air Force Base. This Base was established during WW II and is still an active Air Defense Base.
We arrive at the station in Anchorage at about 1900. As we pull into the yards north of the station the train stops and the cruise line cars are cut off. The ARR part of the train is then pulled into the station. Buses meet the cruise part of the train and we are transferred to our hotels.
Our hotel room looks out over the rail yard north of the station. The next morning I watch the train leave for Fairbanks. Also ARR runs Passenger trains south to Seward, Palmer, and to the Anchorage Airport. It appears that most of this service is run with RDC cars. When I am able to watch the depot I see several, RDC cars, come and go. In the middle of the day I walk down to the station to see if I can get some information on schedules. I find the station closed. The posted times of operations are in the morning and evening. On a bus tour of Anchorage we go by the airport and I see several stub end tracks at the terminal. The bus driver says that there is regular train service from the airport.
The next day we transfer from Anchorage to Whittier to board our ship for Vancouver. This is an interesting ride down the Seward highway which runs beside the ARR. The driver points several places where both the highway and railroad were destroyed by the earthquake of 1964.
Before the state took control of the ARR from the U.S. government there was only one way to get to Whittier and that was by rail. If you wanted your automobile in Whittier you had to load it onto a flat car for the ferry move through the 1 mile tunnel to Whittier. When the state took control of the ARR, they decided that the tunnel could be used for both highway and rail traffic. They paved the road bed in the tunnel making it look like a city street with streetcar tracks. They also widened the tunnel and installed safety areas into which people can escape in case of fire or other disaster. Now both rail and road traffic use the tunnel. There are periods which are used for road traffic east bound and periods for westbound. Other times are reserved for ARR use. We arrived at the tunnel mouth just as a period for our direction opened and joined a line of busses going through. Cars and busses must maintain a 300 foot interval.
I would strongly suggest that if you visit Alaska that you make it a point to visit both of these Railroads.