Tag Archives: alaska railroad

Fairbanks Depot

The Alaska Railroad Depot in Fairbanks


Rammin’ Snow

Alaska Railroad freight train stuck in avalanche debris

An Alaska Railroad freight train found itself stuck in a snowbank, when the train plowed into avalanche debris that had just previously swept across the tracks along Turnagain Arm. The 3144 foot long train was making the run from Whittier to Anchorage, when it hit the debris around 2am on Tuesday morning, just south of Girdwood.

The impact derailed two locomotives, and partially derailed a third. No crew members were injured during the impasse.

The area is known for its avalanche threat, and conditions on Monday were prime. The Seward Highway, which parallels the railway along Turnagain Arm, was not impacted, since the snow did not make it as far as the roadway.

That engineer was living every kid’s dream, who had a train set up in their basement.

Snow was still being cleared from the Anchorage side of the snow drift as of this writing.


Alaska Railroad Centennial

Nenana: Where River Meets Rail, and Past Meets Future”; Charcoal drawing by Noah Nolywaika

2023 is the Centennial year for the Alaska Railroad. U.S. President Warren G. Harding presided over the completion ceremony on July 15, 1923, by driving in the golden spike.

“Alaska Railroad: 100 Years Strong”; Oil painting by William Chase

This past weekend, the annual Alaska Railroad print signing took place at the Anchorage Depot. The tradition of a yearly AKRR print was started back in 1979.

This year, Nenana artist Noah Nolywaika was on hand to sign his charcoal drawing of the Nenana Depot, where the railroad was officially completed 100 years ago. William Chase was also there with his painting of the locomotives throughout the railroad’s history, including Engine No. 1. That historic steam engine now sits outside the historic Anchorage Depot.

Prints and posters are available through the Alaska Railroad’s website.


Moving snow

An undated photo from the Alaska Digital Archives of an Alaska Railroad rotary snowplow.

Collision at Bootleggers Cove

Engine #553 meets Engine #901 at Bootleggers Cove

The only head on collision in Alaska Railroad history happened on this date in 1943. The northbound freight train coming up from Seward met the southbound passenger train on its way to Whittier at 8:45 am at Bootleggers Cove, just west of downtown Anchorage. Minor injuries were reported, but no deaths. One rail car partially overturned, but the rest remained on the tracks.

Engine 553 climbs aboard Engine 901

The Cove:

During Prohibition, Anchorage had some strict liquor laws. The new town of Anchorage, was a bit of a pet project for then President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson sectioned off the city in grids and auctioned the parcels off to residents. One catch: If anyone who purchased parcels were caught with alcohol, the parcels would be repossessed. The rail line ran between the new residential area and the tidal flats. There was a cove below the rail and between Chester Creek and Ship Creek that was a favorite landing spot for bootleggers and their booty, because it was out of sight of the authorities. Thus the renaming of the cove to Bootleggers Cove.


Holidaze Travel

The Aurora Winter Train, Alaska Railroad Depot; Fairbanks

I had several friends travel Outside over the Holidays, while I was quite content to enjoy the cabin life in Fairbanks. Getting out wasn’t the problem. It was getting back to Alaska which has proved challenging. Most friends had layovers in Seattle, which were long enough to officially be reclassified as detours. One had a detour in Anchorage; getting oh so close to Fairbanks, but yet divided by a mountain of snow.

Two friends attempted to travel from Arizona to Fairbanks. There was a detour in Seattle, followed by a last minute flight to Anchorage. A second detour was then encountered. All flights between Alaska’s largest cities were booked out for days. Determined to get home, they booked a ride on the Alaska Railroad. I was excited for them, probably more excited than they were. I have never ridden that set of rails in the winter.

Out of the blue, I received a text from them. They were in Denali Park. “How long is this ride?” they asked. I hesitated, but eventually told them it was a 12 hour trip. One way. The Alaska Railroad is not high speed travel.

Late on New Year’s Day, I get a call. Taxis from the depot are three hours out. It’s -35F, but I head out the door to provide pickup/limo service.

The locomotive did look good, all decked out in Christmas lights.


Traveling the Chatanika Spur

October is American Archives Month:

1920’s travel along the narrow gauge rail of what was originally the Tanana Valley Railroad. By 1920, the TVRR had been bought out and this section renamed the Chatanika Branch. In 1923 it all became part of the Alaska Railroad.


Potter Section House

Chugach State Park:

Potter Section House

The Potter Section House State Historical Site is now home to the Chugach State Park visitor center. The building was built in 1929, and was used to house section workers for this part of the Alaska Railroad. Originally, there were four section houses along the Anchorage section of the railroad. Their use was discontinued in 1978, and the Potter House is the last remaining of the four. It was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Alaska Railroad rotary snowplow

A rotary snowplow that once cleared the tracks along Turnagain Arm is also on display at Potter House. The railroad car behind the snowplow, is home to the Kenai Visitor Center. Both visitor centers have been closed due to the pandemic, and remain closed.

The section along Turnagain Arm is notorious for avalanche, although today the avalanches are planned events. Back in the day, the rotary plow revolutionized track clearing. The plow’s steel teeth cut through even the most packed snow, as well as debris from an avalanche, and the occasional frozen moose. The snow was launched from the chute hundreds of feet off the track. Two steam engines pushed the plow, with a crew of seven.

This particular rotary plow was retired in 1985, in favor of track mounted bulldozers. The Alaska Railroad still maintains one rotary snowplow in reserve.

Up close and personal; Rotary plow blades

Chugach State Park, just outside of Anchorage, covers 495,204 acres. It is the third largest state park in the United States, and the second largest in Alaska. It is truly, one of Alaska’s many gems.

A rotary snowplow in action


Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh and the Chugach Mountains

Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a 564 acre fresh water marsh, located at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.

The marsh was created in 1917 when the embankment for the Alaska Railroad was built up, effectively separating the fresh water from the Chugach Mountains, and the salt water from Turnagain Arm.

Potter Marsh is often called the most accessible wildlife viewing location in Alaska. The marsh is easily reached by the Seward Highway, and it contains a 1550 foot long boardwalk to keep your feet dry.

This wetland maze sees roughly 130 species of migratory and nesting birds calling it home, for at least part of the year. Moose, beavers, muskrats, eagles and hawks all can be viewed at Potter Marsh. Spawning salmon are often seen swimming up Rabbit Creek from Turnagain Arm in season.

Both brown bear and black bear use the marsh, but they are very rarely seen here. Consider yourself very lucky if you spot a bruin moving through the wetland.


Alaska Railroad 2021

Alaska Railroad outside Whittier, Alaska

Rail service was just another casualty in Alaska from Covid-19. With no tourists last summer, rail service took a huge hit within the state.

The Alaska Railroad has already announced increased service on all of their routes. Service between Anchorage and Fairbanks will double: 2020 had only four trains per week, while 2021 will see a total of eight. Every day of the week will see either a northbound or southbound run, and Sundays will see both.

Flagstop service will return to the Anchorage-Fairbanks route, which allows riders to get on or off anywhere along to route to access remote cabins and homesteads. The Alaska Railroad is the only train service in the United States that still provides flagstop service.

Southbound Alaska Railroad passenger train at the Anchorage Depot