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2013 NRHS Convention -- Anchorage to Whittier and Spencer Excursion ~ September 21st, 2013

by Elizabeth Guenzler

This last train trip of the convention dawned cool and damp but it did not deter any of the National Railway Historical Society members. After the regular routine of an early start, breakfast and walking down to the Anchorage station for the safety briefing, the train was opened and the car hosts, including Chris Guenzler, myself and Chris Parker, took their places by the doors to greet and take tickets.

Today our Alaska Railroad train would follow the route of the summer time "Glacier Discovery" from Anchorage to the former military port town of Whittier. Turnagain Arm would be travelled before turning east into the mountains, and the passage through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel under Maynard Mountain. At Whittier, the train will pass the station and venture into the port area where barges from Seattle and Prince Rupert connect the Alaska Railroad to the rest of North America's rail network. On the return trip to Anchorage, a side trip south to Spencer would occur.

Looking out to Turnagain Arm, which is forty-five miles long, forms part of the northern boundary of Kenai Peninsula and reaches on the east to within twelve miles of Portage Bay, a western branch of Prince William Sound. Turnagain is characterized by remarkably large tides of up to 40 feet which are the largest tides in the country.

Our train curving around Turnagain Arm on its way to Whittier.

At Rainbow, MP 93.2, a meet was made with the Holland America Cruise Train.

Taking the siding at Brookman, MP 81.7 and the start of Avalanche Alley', a nine-mile area of winter danger.

The Princess Cruise train passing our train here.

The Byron Glacier.

The start of the wye at Portage at MP 64.3.

Proceeding through the Portage yard.

We were now closer to Byron Glacier.

Exiting Portage Tunnel, 4,905 feet long.

We were now in Bear Valley and the site of a runby. Many passengers detrained in the light rain.

The west portal of Portage Tunnel.

The reverse move into the tunnel.

The photo runby at Bear Valley.

One of the photo lines as the train reversed to pick everyone up for the continuation of the journey to Whittier.

A glacier above Bear Valley.

One last view of this area.

Entering the Whittier Tunnel, also known as the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. It passes under Maynard Mdountain and is the second longest highway tunnel and longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America. The rail line was originally opened on April 23rd, 1943, linking Whittier to the Alaska Railroad's main line at Portage In the mid 1960s, the Alaska Railroad began offering a shuttle service for automobiles through the tunnel between Whittier and the former town of Portage. As traffic to Whittier increased, the shuttle became insufficient, leading the 1990s to a project to convert the existing railroad tunnel into a one-lane, combination highway and railway tunnel. It opened on June 7th, 2000. Traffic is scheduled in twenty minute blocks - twenty minutes each for eastbound highway traffic, westbound highway traffic and the Alaska Railroad.

As the train entered the Port of Whittier, the cruise ship here was the Diamond Princess.

United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Whittier caboose 1076, nee Alaska Railroad, built by Pacific Car and Foundry in 1949.

A glacier at Whittier.

Making our way through Whittier Yard.

The train was posed beside the cruise ship but as it was lightly raining and cool, I quickly returned to the train.

We departed Whittier with the Diamond Princess looming behind us.

When we arrived at the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, we had to wait our turn to go through.

On the way back to Portage.

Our journey on the Portage wye which would lead us to Spencer.

The Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop in the Chugach National Forest sign. Spencer was named after a former railroad employee. We stopped here for a runby and walked down the trail to the bridge over the Placer River.

The 200 foot through truss bridge at MP 54.1, Placer River. The river drains Spencer Lake which was created by Spencer Glacier.

The Alaska Railroad Blues Train on the Placer River Bridge. Everyone returned to the boarding area.

Our train at Spencer waiting to take us back to Anchorage. I did my car host duties that I usually did at the end of a journey then walked the train to find Bart and Sarah Jennings to let them know what an incredible time I had had this week and to thank them for all their work to put such a fantastic convention together. Upon arrival back in Anchorage, all the car hosts returned their walkie-talkies and safety vests then Chris and I returned to the hotel and had dinner at the Sizzlin' Cafe across the street before relaxing in the evening.

Sunday morning, Chris and I had breakfast together then checked out of the hotel. He and Chris Parker took a taxi to the Hilton Hotel for the motorcoach trip to Wasilla and the Museum of Transportation and Industry. I waited for a hotel shuttle to take me to Anchorage Airport for my flight home which left at 11:00. It was an easy flight south to Seattle and I returned home, one very happy person.

The phrase the best week of my life is not one that I use since has a tendency to be over-used and heretofore, no part of my life could have been described in those words. However, the week of September 13th to 21st was indeed The Best Week Of My Life. The terrific and singular experiences that I had at the convention, being in Alaska for the first time and my position as a car host was second to none and I am forever grateful for the opportunities that came my way. A huge thank you to Bart and Sarah Jennings, the rest of the convention committee, the Alaska Railroad and everyone else who made this convention so unique, special and memorable. The memories of that week remain just as strong eight years later at the time of this writing, and will forever be so. I had the most incredible time.