Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Alaska Railroad is a Class II railroad that extends from Seward, in the south of the state of Alaska, in the United States, to Fairbanks, in the interior of that state. It carries both freight and passengers between those two cities and to many destinations between them, including Denali National Park. The railroad is 750 km (470 miles) long. It is currently owned by the State of Alaska.
In 1902 a company called the Alaska Central Railroad began to build a rail line beginning at Seward, near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, northward. The company built 82 km (51 miles) of track by 1909 and went into receivership. This route carried passengers, freight and mail to the upper Turnagain Arm. From there, goods were taken by boat at high tide, and by dog team or pack train to Eklutna and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. In 1909, another company, the Alaska Northern Railroad Company, bought the rail line and extended it another 34 km (21 miles) northward. From the new end, goods were floated down the Turnagain Arm in small boats. The Alaska Northern Railroad went into receivership in 1914.
About this time, the United States Government was planning a railroad route from Seward to the interior town of Fairbanks. In 1914, the government bought the Alaska Northern Railroad and moved its headquarters to Ship Creek, later called Anchorage. The government began to extend the rail line northward.
In 1917, the Tanana Valley Railroad in Fairbanks was falling into receivership. It owned a small 72 km (45 mile) narrow-gauge line that serviced the towns of Fairbanks and Nenana as well as the boat docks on the Tanana River near Fairbanks. The government bought the Tanana Valley Railroad, principally for its terminal facilities, and began to convert its tracks to standard gauge. In 1923 the government extended the south portion of the track to Nenana and built a 276 m (700 ft) bridge that connected the southern tracks to the former Tanana Valley Railroad tracks. At the time, this was the largest single-span steel bridge in the world. U. S. President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike that completed the railroad on July 15 1923.
In 1985, the State of Alaska bought the railroad from the U. S. government.
Currently, there is a proposal to extend the railroad from Fairbanks to Delta Junction to handle the agricultural and construction activity in that region.
Routes and Tourism
The railroad is a major tourist attraction in the summer. Its cars feature wide windows and upper-level dome seating from which to enjoy the Alaskan scenery. (Private cars owned by the major cruise companies are towed behind the Alaska Railroad's own cars, and trips are included with various cruise packages.) The Denali Star runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back with stops in Talkeetna and Denali National Park, from which various flight and bus tours are available. Although the trip is only about 356 miles, the trip takes 12 hours from Anchorage to Fairbanks as the tracks wind through mountains and valleys—the train's top speed is 49 miles per hour but sometimes hovers closer to 15 miles per hour. South of Anchorage, the Coastal Classic winds its way along Turnagain Arm before turning south to the Kenai Peninsula, eventually reaching Seward. In the winter, reduced passenger service operates between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
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