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Alaska - Seward Round Trip

Adventurer in Alaska 

Anchorage to Seward  Round Trip

Day 19 

  September 19, 2013, Thursday 

Text and photos by Robin Bowers

    Every time I hear the alarm it's  always dark. Am sure that my head hit the pillow just moments ago. And so starts another great day of train riding in the "The Last Frontier."  For breakfast it is across 5th Ave to the Sizzin Cafe for bacon, eggs and coffee. After having breakfast while watching the COD, it was back to hotel room to get packed and ready for today's rail adventure.

    The 2013 NRHS convention package states: "Alaska RR Special Train Anchorage to Seward Round Trip.
The Alaska Railroad route from Anchorage to Seward may be the most spectacular 112 miles of railroad in North America. It features shoreline views of
Turnagain Arm, steep grades, tunnels, glaciers, rivers, lakes and mountain after mountain. Our train follows the route of the Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic
from Anchorage to the port town of Seward and back, but on a more relaxed schedule to permit photo stops along the way. In addition, our private train will
visit parts of the Seward terminal not normally covered by scheduled passenger service."

    After a ten minute walk from the hotel and mostly downhill at that, I arrive at the Alaska Railroad Anchorage station. The current station was built in 1942 for $261,000, and had the two story wings, added on in 1948.
Across from the station is Alaska Railroad #1, an 0-4-0ST built by Davenport in October, 1907. This locomotive was originally built as narrow gauge #802 for work in the Panama Canal. In 1917 a large amount of equipment was transferred from the canal project to the Alaska Railroad Commission, including the engine as #6. It was converted to standard gauge in 1930 and renumbered to #1.

    At 7:45 AM I am boarding coach #209, built by Daewoo Heavy Industries in 1989 and seats 78. With open seating within class, there is a small crowd waiting when the carriage doors open at 7AM to grab the best seats. Then at 8AM we leave the station. Today there are four classes of passage: Coach, Dome, Gold Star and Aurora. All but coach have been sold out many months ago.

milage at Anc

Just 114.3 miles to go today one way.

ak rr map


Elevated loading platforms used for cruise line passenger rail cars.

train plat 9084

k 9843

My ticket to ride

at station 9091

Cook Inlet near station.

After 20 minutes we pass a neighborhood where all the adjacent back yards are combined to make a landing strip for small private planes.


MP 110.0 Spenard. Nearby Lakes Spenard and Hood are one of the largest float plane bases in the world. This area was named for Joseph A. Spenard in 1916 who was an early Anchorage settler and businesses man. The lakes are located next to Anchorage Airport.

MP 103.5 Rabbit Creek.  The railroad bridges Rabbit Creek while passing through Potter Marsh, created when railroad grade construction dammed several creeks. Today, Potter Marsh is part of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge and is a favorite location to spot arctic tern, Canada geese, trumpeter swans and many other species of birds. You can also watch for moose which typically graze through out the area. By the way, the average moose eats about 50 pounds of fresh branches and twigs daily. To the west we can now clearly see the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. We will be traveling alongside the water until about Portage.


h2o edge



MP 100.6  Potter.  The historic Potter section house (named for nearby Potter Creek) and Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Area mark the junction of Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm.
Viewing spot for the bore tide, a huge wall of water rushing into or out of the arm during tide changes. Turnagain arm is one of only about 60 bodies of water worldwide to exhibit a tidal bore. The bore may be more than six feet high and travel at 15 miles an hour on high spring tides. Turnagain Arm sees the largest tidal range in the Unites States, with a mean of 30 feet, and the fourth highest in the world.

GPS:  61' 03.106, -149 47.813      Click to see map.        Click Back button on your browser to return to this page.

MP 95.5  Beluga Point.  Beluga Point is named after the Beluga whales that are often seen in Turnagain Arm near here. Beluga whales are unique in that they are the only all-white whales. Additionally, due to the food sources here, the Cook Inlet Beluga whale is a genetically distinct and geographically isolated stock.
The engineer stopped the train here so we could spend some time looking for the whales. He has seen some activity in the water. All the engineers were great about pointing out and giving us warning about whats up ahead. Soon we were spotting the white spots in the distance. The whale show for less than a flash and there is a lot of water out there. It was fun to spot them for a quick second.
    Soon we were moving again and then near MP 93 we could see the Dall Sheep on the cliffs above the railroad and highway. You had to look quick to find and see them. I had flashback to cartoons of sheep on mountain trails and ledges and how similar the pictures looked.

MP 74.5  Girdwood. Girdwood is the site of Alaska's finest ski resort, with the related condominiums, chalets, hotel and restaurants, all located at the base of Mount Alyeska.
Originally called Glacier City for the icy behemoths which rim the surrounding mountains, and was founded as a gold mining town a the turn of the century with several gold claims being staked on Crow Creek and the Virgin and California Creek. Tragedy struck on Good Friday in 1964, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.2 dropped the coastal  edges along the Turnagain 8 to 10 feet. Consequently, the town site of Girdwood moved 2 1/2 miles up the valley to the present location.

MP 64.2  Portage.  Portage got its name by being on the portage route from the Gulf of Alaska to Cook Inlet. Today you will see a few collapsed buildings and lots of dead trees. Devastated by the 1964 earthquake, the old town of Portage is all but gone. Dead trees stand in silent testimony to the power  of the quake ( the second largest recorded in the world) which flooded the town and dropped the surrounding land 10 to 12 feet.
    At one time, Portage was a motor vehicle loading area for the Alaska Railroad that carried passengers and vehicles to Whittier for connections to the Alaska Marine Highway. This procedure ended when the Whittier tunnel was rebuilt for both rail and highway traffic.

MP 63.0    Portage River.  This bridge is made up of five I-beam spans. Technically we now exit Anchorage, which is the the size of Delaware. Also the geography here is in stark contrast to what we saw up in northern Alaska heartland around and near the Fairbanks area. Now we are in an area of ice-fields, glaciers, fjords and mountains.

MP 54.1    Placer River.    The railroad crosses the Placer River using a 200 foot through truss bridge with three wood spans. At the south end of the bridge, we go from flat track to a grade of better than 2.2%, then 3.0% south of Tunnel at milepost 51.0. Southbound the locomotives scream as they haul us up the hills.

MP 52.7    Tunnel 52.7    This is the first of five tunnels over the next mile, all of which help the railroad to tunnel through the eastern slope of Spencer Mountain.  You must keep your arm, legs and head inside of the car as there is very little clearance between the car and the walls of these tunnels.





w falls



Placer River

MP    48.2    Bartlett Glacier.    Named in 1907 for Frank Bartlett, Alaska Central Railroad civil engineer, the glacier is visible just 800 feet away from the tracks. Deadman's Glacier rises above. Over the next several miles, the train climbs and curves. The railroad makes a hard right while heading southbound, creating a horseshoe curve.


full consist


Placer River with start and end of curve.


look back

Where we was. The speedy train was doing about 8 miles an hour up the horseshoe curve.

MP 33.8    Johnson.    Johnson is situated at the north end of Upper Trail Lake. We will run along the eastern shore of the lake to Moose Pass where we will be having our photo run by. Heading south we are making a turn from westbound to southbound as we circle around Lark Mountain, to the south. Lark Mountain is named for the horned lark, the only lark found in Alaska. The hillside is a favorite location for birders to see the lark.

upper trail lake

Upper Trail Lake.


Upper Trail Lake with gray glacier silt in water

MP 29.3    Moose Pass.    This small settlement located about where Upper Trail Lake Flows into Middle Trail Lake was once a railroad section station. The community was first named in 1912 as a station on the Alaska Railroad. The name is reportedly derived from a mail carrier's team of dogs that in 1903 had considerable trouble gaining the right-of-way from a moose. A post office was established in 1928. The railroad crosses Trail Lake on a timber trestle made of 19 spans.

    It is a little past noon when we stop at Moose Pass and exit our cars for our photo run by.


"Aurora" 2000. Business Car/Conf. Room Obs.  Built in 2000 by Colorado Rail car  as Florida Fun Train 9005 but never delivered.


float plane

Float plane on landing path.

    We had a few light showers at this location but that didn't dampen anyone's spirits.



closer approach

Video: Photo Run-by of train crossing over Trail Lake bridge near Moose Pass.        Click to watch video.
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up trail lake

Upper Trail Lake.

GPS:    60 29.191, -149 21.968     Click for map.
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    After re-boarding our train it is an announced that in Fairbanks on Tuesday, next day after we left, they had 2 inches of snow.

MP 12.0    Divide.    Divide is a siding to the west, once know as Summit Station. This is a small "Continental Divide" at the top of grades more than 2% in each direction. This is the first crossing of the Kenai Mountains at approximately 700 feet in elevation. All waters from here to MP 312 flow into Cook Inlet. Directly to the west is Mount Ascension at 5,710 feet in elevation. To the east is Paradise Peak at 6,050 feet. To the southwest is Resurrection Peaks, topping out at 4,712 feet.

MP 3.2    Resurrection River.    The Resurrection River travels through a wide flood plain in this area. The Harding Icefield to the west is the source for this river. Due to the heavy silt in the river, not many salmon are present. Resurrection River flows into Resurrection Bay at Seward.

r river

Resurrection River.

res river

Resurrection River.

4 paths

Four modes of transportation: Rail, Auto, Plane; Seward Airport, Boat; Resurrection Bay.

MP 2.3    Seward Wye.    To the east is the Seward Yard, a small locomotive and car shop, and the line to the coal and inter modal docks. Shortly our train will back over this Wye.


Seward Wye tracks.

MP 1.7    Seward Station.  The "Railhead" of the Alaska Railroad. A year round deep-water port, Seward is the gateway to interior Alaska and is situated on Resurrection Bay's fertile, salmon and halibut-filled waters. Resurrection Bay was named in 1792 by Russian fur trader and explorer Alexander Baranof. While sailing from Kodiak to Yakutat, he found unexpected shelter in this bay from a storm. He named the bay Resurrection because it was the Russian Sunday of the Resurrection.

    The City of Seward was named for US Secretary of State William Seward (1861-69) who orchestrated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867. Construction of a railroad at Seward was first begun in 1904 by the Alaska Central Railway. By 1960, Seward was the largest community of the Peninsula. Tsunamis generated after the 1964 earthquake destroyed the railroad terminal and killed several residents. Because of the damage, and the move of the major port facilities to their current location, the railroad was abandoned between the depot location and the edge of town at Dock Road, milepost 1.6.

fish 9186

Salmon playing the mating game in stream next to rail tracks at Seward station. 

    The railroad's Seward terminal is spread across 328 acres. To the east is the coal and the Alaska Railroad's inter modal dock and cruise ship port. Approximately 240 acres are used for railroad operations while the rest is available for lease or permit. The four major rail uses of the terminal are (1) the coal loading facility and dock (26 acres), (2) the cruise ship and passenger dock and terminal (12 acres), (3) the freight dock (35 acres), and (4) the railroad yard. The Alaska Railroad is in the process of expanding its freight dock in Seward to improve safety, efficiency and capacity of freight inter modal operations (ship-to-train, ship-to-truck, ship-to-barge).

    Seward is technically milepost 0 of the Iditarod Trail. The trail was surveyed in 1910 as a mail route between Seward and Nome. The trail, used until 1924 when it was replaced by airplanes, was 98 miles long. Today, the entire trail is a National Historic Trail.

marthon mountain

Mount Marathon overlooking Seward.

    After a short wait at the Seward Station, our train backs down the tracks and is switched over to the wye track. Continuing backing on wye we are then switch onto a main line and continue backing to the end of the line. The start of the line.

rail yard


mt 9197

Mount Marathon and the front of our train.

end of line 9199

This is as far as you can go. Conductor is standing at the end of line. In the back is the Dale R. Lindsey Alaska Railroad Seward Dock.

    This is the southern most point in my travels here in Alaska.    GPS:   60 07.236, -149 25.694       Click for Map  
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    After everyone had taken all their photos we start our return trip north to Anchorage.

9200 boa

9201 boas

Dry dock for the coming winter ?

    After getting under way, I made my way to the dining car for a lunch break. My chosen selection today was Slow Braised Pot Roast. A perennial favorite, the slow-cooked pot roast is served with mashed potatoes, red wine demi sauce, seasonal vegetables and a dinner roll. The meal and service was excellent.

    The nourishment break over and I am now sedate with nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the Alaska countryside. The return trip always seems to go faster than the outbound  trip. Maybe because we stop for the run bys on the way out. So the train is going at a good clip to get back to Anchorage.



9207 rain




Gun Position 8. The Alaska Railroad has its own artillery, used to blast snow to prevent major avalanches in this area. Placer River on left.

9221 mt







    Our train arrives at the  Anchorage station near 7 PM. with just a few minutes to spare before the crew ran out of time and went dead.

    After returning to our hotel, Chris P. and I decided to out somewhere for dinner. We were joined by Bob R. and started walking up 5th Ave.
We passed several sustenance emporiums but none passed muster. Looking for better opportunities we head down to 6th Ave. Arriving at 6th Ave we spot it down the block. It blew all our skirts up. We entered to Rice Bowl and were showed to a booth. Soon our table was filled with platters of a variety of foods. All looking good and great aroma. We had a nice chit chat while dining and soon all the plates were members of the clean plate club. Leaving the Rice Bowl we all had a nice stroll back to the hotel.

    Shortly after it was lights out.


Looking Southeast from my hotel room.

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Rice Bowl
810 E. 6th Ave, 99501