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2013 NRHS Convention -- Alaska Railroad Excursion to Palmer, Anchorage Airport and Potter ~ September 20th, 2013

by Elizabeth Guenzler

The penultimate day of the convention featured more rare mileage as it was designed to offer a complete look at the railroad's Anchorage-area operations and cover several area rail lines that do not see regular passenger service. Departing from the historic Alaska Railroad station in Anchorage, the train will head north into the Mat-Su Valley to Palmer Junction then turn east toward the Alaska State Fairgrounds at Palmer, a route covered by passenger trains only during the State Fair. The train will then return to Anchorage via the Anchorage Terminal freight-only line and cover the new rail line to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, used only by charter cruiseship trains. Finally, the train would continue south to Potter and the railway equipment on display there. The customary banquet was scheduled for that evening at the Hilton Anchorage, the convention hotel.

With all that planned, I knew today would be another excellent day of the NRHS convention. I was up early, had breakfast then Chris and I walked over to the Hilton Hotel to sign up for the banquet before we walked over to the station for the daily safety briefing. We then walked out to the train in a chilly mid-30 degree morning and greeted our passengers as they arrived, ready for a day on the rails.

The front of the train this early morning.

The rear of our train at Anchorage.

Ready for our passengers.

Chris used these concrete barriers with the Alaska Railroad emblem to juxtapose them with the train and me at the door of the coach we were car hosting in today.

Kinik Inlet as we reversed to the freight-only mainline.

Curving onto the freight yard main line.

Our crossing of Ship Creek.

The Hilton Anchorage as seen from Ship Creek.

Passenger cars of the Wilderness Explorer in the yard.

Holland America passenger cars.

The north end of the shop complex.

Alaska Railroad locomotives awaiting their next assignment.

We have reached the mainline but our rare mileage did not stop there as we took the Elmendorf siding before we reached the main line. Passenger trains never use this siding either.

Turnagain Arm in the morning sunlight.

Crossing the Kinik River.

The Matanuska River Flood Channel at MP 147.4.

The Matanuska River at MP 148.3. It was then time to go onto the Palmer Branch, which was completed in 1917 and known as the Matunuska Branch. The line initially served several coal mines supplying coal to the United States Navy as well as various communities around Alaska.

Milepost A3 of the Palmer Branch.

The Palmer Church as we made our way to the fairgrounds.

Approaching the State Fairgrounds, known as South Palmer, or MP A4.2. We detrained here for a static photo stop.

Alaska Railroad F40 31 on the point of our train.

Alaska Railroach coach 209.

The convention train at the State Fairgrounds. The train was then re-positioned to be by the Alaska State Fair sign.

Our convention train by the sign.

The South Palmer station at MP A4.2, which opened in 2004. Its official name is the Alaska State Fair Intermodal Commuter Centre. We then reboarded for the trip to the Anchorage Airport.

At Birchwood, MP 136.3, we slowed down so everyone could photograph the last Alaska Railroad RDC that was used in work train service - RDC2 701.

The beginning of the Anchorage International Airport Branch.

The Airport Runaround, MP J1.60, an 800 foot siding.

The rear of the train as it went around the siding.

Taking the first curve on the airport line.

The airport parking lot as viewed from the train.

Curving into the airport station, more correctly called the Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot at the Anchorage International Airport. This is the end of the branch, recently extended to this new train station which was built for the cruise ship trains. Bill Sheffield is a former Alaska Governor who signed legislation establishing the quasi-public Alaska Railroad Corporation and its seven-member board of directors as part of the process of Alaska acquiring the railroad from the federal government.

On the airport branch.

Mount McKinley could be seen today. Then those who then wanted to detrained for a 'false photo runby' here; that is the train would reverse and come forward to re-enter the station but not go past us.

The train reversing.

The re-entry into the station. Everyone re-boarded the train and we were on our way to Potter and the State Historical Park.

This information board shows how long Turnagain Arm is. Potter marks the junction of Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm, so named when Captain Cook's 1778 search up the arm of the Northwest Passage ended when he had to "turn again".

The rear of our train with GP40-2 3011 and GP40-2 3013 at Potter.

Alaska Railroad rotary snow plough X-900212 on display at the Potter Section House State Historic Park.

This really shows how large the snow plough actually is.

This explanatory sign describes how track is laid and the various types of track that have been used on the Alaska Railroad over time.

Samples of the different types of track.

Sign for the outfit car.

Alaska Railroad Outfit Car 1500E which began as a troop sleeper during World War II and was converted to a kitchen car for use in maintenance-of-way service.

Description of the section car.

Alaska Railroad speeder G1102.

The meat cache on display at Potter.

The Potter section house built in 1929.

The National Register of Historic Places plaque. I re-boarded the train and went to see the views from the upper level of the Gold Star coaches.

The section house as seen from the train.

The fantastic scenery.

The curved tile at the stairway to the upper level.

A mural above one of the seats in the dining area.

A lower level view. This is where I ate my meals while on board the train today.

Snow-covered mountains on the way back. The train returned us to Anchorage after a tremendous day of rare mileage. Chris and I returned to the hotel, relaxed and freshened up for the banquet. We mingled with a variety of people during the social hour.

The banquet room before the doors opened.

Greg Molloy, at that time President of the National Railway Historical Society, welcoming everyone to the banquet and giving his introductory speech.

Bart Jennings, the Rail Operations Manager for the convention, thanking not just the members but all the volunteers, car hosts and committee members. The guest speaker, whom I did not get a photograph of, was Pat Shake, Vice President of Transportation and Mechanical for the Alaska Railroad, who gave a very interesting presentation. After an enjoyable evening, the banquet ended and the penultimate day of the convention was over.

This had been yet another fantastic and excellent day of riding the Alaska Railroad with its rare mileage and scenery.