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As we reflect on the past year, 2023 stands out as a significant milestone for the Alaska Railroad, marking a century since the completion of our main line. This historic event was celebrated on July 15, echoing the momentous occasion when President Warren G. Harding drove in the golden spike in 1923. Our commemoration in Nenana was graced by the presence of Governor Mike Dunleavy, Senator Dan Sullivan, FRA Administrator Amit Bose, and numerous stakeholders, showcasing a century of achievements and progress. Community open houses held in Anchorage and Fairbanks, featuring complimentary train rides, welcomed thousands of Alaskans. For those unable to attend, the Anchorage Museum presents an enriching exhibit, “All Aboard: 100 Years of the Alaska Railroad,” on display until Feb. 18. It has been a remarkable year, uniting people across Alaska and worldwide in celebrating our history.
This significant milestone prompts reflection on the profound impact the railroad has had on Alaska’s past and its ongoing relevance in shaping the state’s present and future. The construction of the Alaska Railroad catalyzed the economic development of Southcentral and Interior Alaska, unlocking the region’s potential through safe and reliable transportation. From Anchorage’s establishment to supporting pivotal projects like the Prudhoe Bay development and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline construction, the railroad has been instrumental in driving growth and progress throughout the state over the last century.
The state’s acquisition of the Alaska Railroad from the federal government in 1985, encompassing ports in Seward, Whittier, Nenana, and 36,000 acres of land, underscored the railroad corridor’s strategic importance. Committed to our mission of ensuring safety and service for Alaska’s benefit, we operate as a self-sustaining corporation. Profitability is paramount as it fuels the maintenance and enhancement of our tracks, bridges, facilities, and rolling stock, crucial for a railroad with a century-old legacy.
Amidst the evolution and growth of Alaska over the past century, operating a railroad spanning 500-plus miles has presented its share of challenges. Our dedicated workforce of over 600 year-round employees tirelessly navigates regulatory demands, technological advancements, right-of-way management, and community interests.
Today, the Alaska Railroad remains a linchpin of Alaska’s limited transportation infrastructure, serving both freight and passenger customers. Last year, our trains moved nearly 4 million tons of freight, facilitating the transportation of groceries, consumer goods, gravel for local road projects, military operations support, and materials for North Slope development. Weekly rail barges connecting Seattle and Whittier bolster operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness, while cargo ships at the port of Seward play a crucial role in the supply chain to Western Alaska.
On the passenger front, our scheduled trains link destinations from Seward to Fairbanks, contributing to local economies and alleviating pressure on Alaska’s restricted highway system by reducing the equivalent of over 8,000 buses. In Seward, our passenger dock serves as the gateway to Alaska for numerous cruise guests, providing an economic boost that transcends regions. Recognizing Alaska’s unique needs, we operate the nation’s last flag-stop train service, ensuring year-round access to the roadless community north of Talkeetna.
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