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Alaska RR Whistle Stop Train

Alaska Railroad Whistle Stop

Southcentral Alaska
June 27, 2008

Story and photographs copyright 2008 by Richard Elgenson
RailNews Network writer


I had been looking forward to my 2008 Alaska trip for many months.  The plan was for two weeks ending the trip at Kodiak Island.  The way things worked out, I got lots of fishing in and a lesser amount of train riding on the beautiful Alaska Railroad.  This year has been a banner year for travelling for me, having spent half of May traversing the rails up the west coast from Los Angeles to Seattle on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, with an additional trip on PV's through Donner Pass to Reno Nevada.  Those endeavors clocked in at 4,000 rail miles.  For this Alaska trip, I am taking the Spencer Whistle Stop train which will encourage me to get off and tour a glacier for several hours as a pedestrian, then pick me up.  Overnight camping is also available.

We start this day trip at the downtown Anchorage Depot.   Phase One of the Ship Creek Intermodal Project is in the process of construction.  The plan calls for 2 new and 2 rehabilitated tracks outside the depot along with a platform, train servicing facilities and drainage improvements.  Future phases include renovating the historic Ship Creek Depot, a pedestrian bridge from E Street to the depot, and a departure lounge over the tracks.  Here is what is looks like in June 2008.


The Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop train., the last of the daily scheduled passenger trains to depart during the tourist season, sports a leisurely 10 AM departure time.  She is set up for push-pull operation with a recent SD-70 mac on the point and cab car 31 on the rear.  Don't let the nice weather in Anchorage fool you, for, the closer you get to Whittier, the weather gets..., well you can figure out the rest.  Mother Nature would not disappoint.  On the other hand, the day before this Whistle Stop trip, it was raining in Anchorage and I was worried that it would be raining at the Russian River, which it wasn't.  Having said that, let's begin our wonderful Whistle Stop train trip.

Alaska Railroad has lots of managers and vice-presidents doing some serious thinking.  Acquiring the old Amtrak locomotives and turning them into cab cars was a good idea.  Developing their Whittier train into the Glacier Discovery/Spencer Grandview train to the roadless wilderness was another fantastic idea.  The planning of the Whistle Stop has been in the works for several years and has several more years of construction of trails, campgrounds and cabins.
The route almost immediately yields beautiful views.  Less than a mile from the depot, passengers get views of near and distant mountains.  Below left is Mt. Susitna, also known as Sleeping Lady.  Below right are mainland mountains which range from 7,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation.
From the train, even the airport looks interesting.  Eventually we pass thourgh south Anchorage, where I had started my morning on public transit with a moose running across the street in front of the People Mover bus.  Wow, I am not even on the train yet and the wild animals are out.
Below, is the Cross Road grade crossing in south Anchorage.  The Spencer Whistle Stop train gliides through here effortlessly and quietly.  This crossing is a no whistle crossing though the bell does ring and gates lower.  I had taken my host's dog for a walk to get these photographs.  I don't think he had a problem with the train, but he reacted negatively to the bell.  The inhabitants in this neighborhood most likely appreciate the lack of train whistles.

Further on down the road, the rails parallel the Seward Highway for 30-40 miles.  Below left, is an area which looks inviting, but is insect infested.  Below right is Potter's Marsh, a well known bird watching location.  It features wooden boardwalks from where one may view the wildlife.
Just a few more miles down the line is the Dall Sheep habitat.  I have seen these sheep down at the road level a number of times including the prior evening on the way back from the Russian River.
In my assigned car, I had noticed two young women a few rows close to my seat.  After speaking to them, I found out that one was a wildlife photography fanatic.  They had planned their trip on about a month's notice and travelled to Alaska from Minneapolis Minnesota.

Whistle Stop Page 2

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