Friday, June 28, 2024


Fulfilling a long-desired goal, my wife and I finally travelled north to Alaska using a land and sea cruise—a popular option.  Both portions of the trip featured rail activity for me.   

We began by flying to Anchorage and then up to Fairbanks.  The initial part of the tour featured a riverboat cruise and exposition of “typical” Alaska including a float plane demonstration and a native Alaskan village.  A bus then got us to Denali Park—the huge National Park at the center of Alaska.  The tundra wilderness bus tour highlighted subarctic flora and fauna, including the Dall Sheep that led to the original formation of the National Park. 


Following the full day into Denali Park, we boarded a train to journey down to Anchorage.  We were blessed with clearing skies and had numerous views of Mt. Denali (ex-McKinley), the tallest peak in North America.  The train was operated by Alaska Railroad, but was composed of cars rebuilt and reconditioned by the cruise lines—in our case by the consortium of Princess and Holland America.  


Our Alaska RR train to Anchorage from Denali National Park.


The irony for me was that most of these cars were reconditioned from former Southern Pacific Peninsula Commute Cars, retired from that service in the mid-1980s.  These were bilevel cars in that service, now reconfigured but still having two levels.  Those two levels are more like Amtrak’s Superliner equipment by having the main passenger seating on the upper deck and food service below.  Only the outline of the cars remained after the rebuild, with the roof and upper windows replaced by new wide windows for viewing scenery.  The rebuilt cars also feature a platform on one end for both passenger access during loading and unloading and an open viewing platform during the trip.


Last car of the train—our car.  Note the platform on the rear of the car ahead (left).  A similar platform was on the far (rear) end of our car.


Rolling south on the Alaska Railroad with the full train in view.


What was supposed to have been an eight-hour trip turned out to be closer to eleven as we encountered slow orders along the way to Anchorage.  The weather was spectacular!  We got numerous views of Mt. Denali—a rare condition, as Denali literally makes its own weather and is often shrouded in cloud.


Mt. Denali looms above the Alaska Range as a pair of all-white peaks.


Further along, toward Anchorage, Mt. Denali and its sibling peaks were in full view.


After an overnight in Anchorage, we took another train across the peninsula to Whittier where we embarked aboard our cruise ship.  I did not capture pictures of that equipment, which was conventional height passenger cars of the Alaska Railroad.  One aspect of guided tours is being herded along with few opportunities to break out for such tasks as railfanning.  Sigh.


The next post will cover the other major rail activity of the cruise tour—Skagway and the White Pass and Yukon.

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