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ARRC Coastal Classic Train

Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic Train

June 27 to 30, 2004
Story and color photographs copyright 2004 by Richard Elgenson
RailNews Network

Sunday, June 27, 2004, I arrived at Ted Stevens International airport in Anchorage Alaska at 1:15 am, right on time, even though we left LAX 36 minutes late.  I was fortunate on Alaska Airlines to be offered the wing exit row on the port side.  This allowed me to lie down and sleep on the ride up to Alaska.  Once on the ground in Anchorage, I chose to remain at the airport until about 5:30 am and take a taxi to the downtown Anchorage Alaska Railroad depot.  My train, the Coastal Classic to Seward is the first train of the day to depart.  I checked my bags outside the depot and entered the passsenger waiting area to get my ticket.  There was a line of about 30 people waiting to receive their tickets.



The agent was very friendly at this early hour and gave me a special package of two posters usually handed out to passengers on board the Glacier Discovery train and only those who ride to Spencer or Grandview.  Upon reviewing the poster, I knew that I was about embark on a special trainride.  The poster was dedicated to the southern 114 miles of the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Seward.  I boarded the train after I took a few photographs of it.


The train this day had two GP-49's and the Aurora business car attached to the end.  I asked why the Aurora car was there and the reply was that the Chinese ambassador was on a special charter.  I had intended to buy a cup of coffee in the depot, but instead chatted with Adrie Setton, Alaska Railroad Director of Passenger Operations .  I introduced myself and he said he knew my name.  Adrie makes sure that all trains depart without a hitch and takes care of solving any problems that the train crew, tour guides, and caterer might have.  After a couple minutes, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 6:44 and we were to depart in one minute. so my coffee would have to be procured on the train.  I re-boarded the car and we departed on time.


Every railcar on the Alaska Railroad has comfortable seats and first class legroom with bars attached to the seat in front of you to prop your feet onto.  It was of interest to see that a freight train was working in the lead north of the depot and it had one of the new SD-70 mac's.  Soon, Conductor Harry Ross made announcements that he would be collecting tickets.  The dining car staff also announced that they would call breakfast diners car by car starting with the "A" car.  I had a "breakfast" at the airport since I had not had dinner the night before.  The dining staff also said breakfast and coffee could be had on a "to go" basis.  I bolted up to get my coffee.  The train leaves the depot at milepost 114.3 and by mp 104, Anchorage is history, but not before passing through the last neighborhood on the ocean side of the tracks, complete with its own grass aircraft landing strip..  The railroad now passes Potter Marsh, which was created by the installation of the railroad tracks.  The tour guide announced that many years ago, there was an idea to turn the marsh into a sanitary landfill.  The public did not allow this and now bird watchers are able to utilize a series of wooden walkways to observe their feathered friends.



The train parallels the Seward highway and the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet for the next 40 miles.  My first time in Alaska found me driving this route in the rain towards Homer.  Being on the train is where I'd rather be in this most beautiful part of Alaska, .  I returned to my seat with the coffee and then got the camera and started taking pictures from the vestibule.  Alaska Railroad is unique in that they allow the window part of the dutch door to be open to view the scenery.  It also makes photography results much better quality as there is no window to reflect interior contents.  I spent much of the time in the vestibule and didn't hear much of the tour guide narration.  There are public address system speakers in the vestibule, although the volume was low.



There is a small town on the opposite side of the Turnagain Arm called Hope.  There was an idea to build a bridge to Hope, but the sediments are much too thick and deep to support bridge piers.  One highlight along the way is the spot where Dall sheep like to congregate.  Usually they are spotted up the mountain on ledges, but this day there were at least 10 of them just across the Seward Highway.



The traverse along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet is a series of coves and then a reverse curve in the track at the point of land jutting out into the water.  The railroad and the Seward Highway parallel one another and swap waterside locations several times.

Page 2 Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic

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