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Passenger train services in Alaska: Seward - Whittier - Anchorage - Denali - Fairbanks


GTJ
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Many questions and much confusion has arisen in this forum with respect to the various passenger train services operated by the Alaska Railroad between Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, and intermediate points. This is understandable given that several train names are similar, different service providers are involved, there are three different types of "dome" cars in service, and there is otherwise uncertainty as to what services are available. In an effort to clarify the situation, I have drawn a color-code route map and train service table that should answer most basic questions about these train services. Click on the link below to download a PDF file. It is a first draft, so comments and corrections are welcomed. Hopefully this information will be useful to those persons planning a land-based extension to their Alaska cruise plans.

Alaska Railroad Map and Service.pdf

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1 hour ago, GTJ said:

Many questions and much confusion has arisen in this forum with respect to the various passenger train services operated by the Alaska Railroad between Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, and intermediate points. This is understandable given that several train names are similar, different service providers are involved, there are three different types of "dome" cars in service, and there is otherwise uncertainty as to what services are available. In an effort to clarify the situation, I have drawn a color-code route map and train service table that should answer most basic questions about these train services. Click on the link below to download a PDF file. It is a first draft, so comments and corrections are welcomed. Hopefully this information will be useful to those persons planning a land-based extension to their Alaska cruise plans.

Alaska Railroad Map and Service.pdf 52.26 kB · 5 downloads

Thats brilliant! Thank you.

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20 hours ago, AKStafford said:

If by "McKinley" you mean Princesses' McKinley Lodge, then I think that should be between Talkeetna and Hurricane, not before Talkeetna. Otherwise, very helpful.

"McKinley" refers to the McKinley station of the Alaska Railroad. It is located where Woodpecker Avenue intersects the railroad, just south of Talkeetna. There is not much there, physically, but it is the location that Holland America-Princess uses, instead of Talkeetna itself, and where their motorcoaches meet their trains to transport passengers between the trains and the various lodges used by Holland America-Princess. You might notice that Holland America-Princess uses the train name "McKinley Express" to denote their train between Whittier and McKinley station. The origin of the name "McKinley" as the name of the railroad station might indeed be related to the nearby McKinley Lodge--since the station was established specifically for Holland America-Princess--but that would be speculation on my part.

 

I had though about adding a dotted line connecting McKinley station with a new point labeled McKinley Lodge (which, indeed, would be located between Talkeetna and Hurricane!), the dotted line representing the motorcoaches used by Holland America-Princess to make that connection. But I am not certain if adding such a dotted line would confuse people into believing that there is an actual train making that connection. (I had also though about adding a dotted line connecting the Seward Railroad Station and the Seward Cruise Port, not to show a motorcoach connection but rather to indicate that the two points are so close to each other and are easily walkable.) Comments welcome.

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On 9/30/2022 at 8:10 PM, AKStafford said:

If by "McKinley" you mean Princesses' McKinley Lodge, then I think that should be between Talkeetna and Hurricane, not before Talkeetna. Otherwise, very helpful.

Revised with motorcoach shuttle to the Mt. McKinley Lodge added.

Alaska Railroad Map and Service 2.pdf

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10 hours ago, AKStafford said:

Do you mind if others share it on a Facebook group for Alaska travel?

I do not mind it being shared for non-commercial activity, provided that the copyright notice remains intact. Do you think the version with the added motorcoach shuttle to and from Mt. McKinley Lodge helps or detracts from what is otherwise a railroad map?

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14 hours ago, GTJ said:

Do you think the version with the added motorcoach shuttle to and from Mt. McKinley Lodge helps or detracts from what is otherwise a railroad map?

I think it helps, especially for those headed to the the McKinley Lodge.

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11 hours ago, AKStafford said:

I think it helps, especially for those headed to the the McKinley Lodge.

There are many accommodations available all along the Alaska Railroad, so in providing a map of the railroad I would not want use the criterion of helpfulness to locate particular accommodations. Where I think the addition could be helpful is removing the ambiguity of McKinley station, given that there are no physical improvements at the station, and that unlike the other railroad stations, it is really only a waypoint--a transfer point--rather than an actual destination with some utility of its own.

 

A parallel situation exists on the northeast corridor where the Amtrak-owned railroad between New York and Trenton--which also hosts trains operated by New Jersey Transit--has a station called Newark Liberty International Airport. That station is inaccessible other than by the two railroad service providers and a separate monorail service that connects at the station and shuttles passengers to the airport terminals (much like the motorcoach service shuttles passengers to and from the McKinley station in Alaska). The Amtrak national system map, including the inset showing the northeast corridor, does not show the monorail shuttle (see http://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/Maps/Amtrak-System-Map-1018.pdf), but the New Jersey Transit map does show the monorail shuttle (see http://content.njtransit.com/public/pdfs/maps/NJTRailSystemMap-Aug2022.pdf).

 

I will have to think about this some more.

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On 9/30/2022 at 3:14 PM, GTJ said:

Many questions and much confusion has arisen in this forum with respect to the various passenger train services operated by the Alaska Railroad between Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, and intermediate points. This is understandable given that several train names are similar, different service providers are involved, there are three different types of "dome" cars in service, and there is otherwise uncertainty as to what services are available. In an effort to clarify the situation, I have drawn a color-code route map and train service table that should answer most basic questions about these train services. Click on the link below to download a PDF file. It is a first draft, so comments and corrections are welcomed. Hopefully this information will be useful to those persons planning a land-based extension to their Alaska cruise plans.

Alaska Railroad Map and Service.pdf 52.26 kB · 15 downloads

I was one of the posters with a lot of questions a few weeks back.

 

Thank you for taking the time making the Alaska Railroad Map.   It does make it easier to understand.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 9/30/2022 at 3:14 PM, GTJ said:

Many questions and much confusion has arisen in this forum with respect to the various passenger train services operated by the Alaska Railroad between Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, and intermediate points. This is understandable given that several train names are similar, different service providers are involved, there are three different types of "dome" cars in service, and there is otherwise uncertainty as to what services are available. In an effort to clarify the situation, I have drawn a color-code route map and train service table that should answer most basic questions about these train services. Click on the link below to download a PDF file. It is a first draft, so comments and corrections are welcomed. Hopefully this information will be useful to those persons planning a land-based extension to their Alaska cruise plans.

Alaska Railroad Map and Service.pdf 52.26 kB · 33 downloads

What cruise lines use Whittier?  Seward?

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29 minutes ago, kayehall said:

What cruise lines use Whittier?  Seward?

Whittier is used as a port by the Carnival Corporation subsidiaries (i.e., Holland America Line and Princess Cruises) and by the Alaska Marine Highway. Nearly all other vessels use Seward as their port.

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45 minutes ago, kayehall said:

If I wanted to spend some time in Seward, how would I get To Whittier?  How far is it?

Direct transportation between Seward and Whittier is not good. Each of the two ports has several options of travel to and from Anchorage, but there is not good transportation between the two ports directly. Absent private transportation (such as by taxi), you would have to connection in Anchorage, or connect at the point where the roads and rails from each of the two ports converge (i.e., at Portage). The schedules are not well set up for these connections, and so you might need or desire to spend the night in Anchorage.

 

From Seward to Portage you might travel on either the Park Connection, Alaska Cruise Transportation, or Seward Bus Line bus. Park Connection departs Seward at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.; Alaska Cruise Transportation departs Seward at 8:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 7:00 p.m.; Seward Bus Line departs Seward at 9:30 a.m. It is about 90 minutes travel time from Seward to Portage. Note that Portage is not on the bus schedule, so you might need to pay full fare to Anchorage, and arrange with the bus driver to be dropped off in Portage.

 

From Portage to Whittier you might travel on either the Park Connection or the Alaska Cruise Transportation bus, or the Alaska Railroad train. Park Connection departs Portage at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and alternate Wednesdays; Alaska Cruise Transportation departs Portage at approximately 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and alternate Wednesdays, and at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Sundays; Alaska Railroad departs Portage at 11:35 a.m. and 5:25 p.m. daily. It is about 30 minutes travel time from Portage to Whittier. Note that Portage is not on the bus schedule, so you might need to pay full fare from Anchorage, and flag down the bus along the highway to be picked up. Portage is on the train schedule and is a regular stop. (Near Portage is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where one might pass what could otherwise be an extended connection at a desolate highway junction.)

 

If I were to be traveling direct from Seward to Whittier, I would board Alaska Cruise Transportation in Seward at 2:30 p.m., and request the driver to stop on the highway at the Portage railroad station (arriving there at about 4:00 p.m.; best to have baggage inside the coach and not under). I would then first attempt to flag down either the Park Connection or the Alaska Cruise Transportation buses, both of which would be expected at about 4:30 p.m. Were both buses to fly past without stopping (they might be full), I would then use "Plan B," which would be to wait at the railroad station until the train came at approximately 5:25 p.m., and ride the train to Whittier. Ordinarily there would be no concerns over availability of train space, given the wilderness location from which it originates, and even in worse case the conductor would almost certainly make accommodation in non-revenue space (e.g., cafe car). Thus, the entire journey would 2.5 to 3.5 hours travel time, for a 90-mile trip, not fast but not unreasonable, though not particularly convenient in any sense.

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6 hours ago, Northern Aurora said:

 

The easiest option is to simply rent a car in Anchorage, drive to Seward (a little more than two hours by road) and then drive to Whittier.

Easier than renting and operating a vehicle oneself (assuming one is licensed and capable of doing so) would be engaging a taxi or TNC service. None of these options would be inexpensive (what would the cost be for a one-way rental from Seward to Whittier, including drop-off fee?), though the bus service as well would not be inexpensive. Overall, transportation between Seward and Whittier is not very good.

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36 minutes ago, GTJ said:

Easier than renting and operating a vehicle oneself (assuming one is licensed and capable of doing so) would be engaging a taxi or TNC service. None of these options would be inexpensive (what would the cost be for a one-way rental from Seward to Whittier, including drop-off fee?), though the bus service as well would not be inexpensive. Overall, transportation between Seward and Whittier is not very good.

 

I am sorry but I just have to ask -- do you know how to drive a vehicle?  That very basic and common life skill makes life so much easier.  And do you really think that someone could "flag down" either of the motor coach services you mention in your post #14?  Have you ever actually been to Alaska?

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4 hours ago, Northern Aurora said:

 

I am sorry but I just have to ask -- do you know how to drive a vehicle? That very basic and common life skill makes life so much easier. And do you really think that someone could "flag down" either of the motor coach services you mention in your post #14? Have you ever actually been to Alaska?

I am neither licensed nor capable of safely operating a motor vehicle. My wife is similarly incapable. A few friends and colleagues of mine are licensed, but as to those of whom I do not know their status I would not assume so. As to those who depend on driving themselves I do not see their overall lives as any easier generally. I do wish fewer people were licensed to operate a motor vehicle, as so many do so carelessly and dangerously. More people should recognize that they cannot operate a motor vehicle safely and forgo even seeking licensure.

 

When traveling by bus, I have many times flagged buses on the highway. In fact, I had the was recently involved in a strategy discussion with other corporate executives where I work about increasing the flag stop ability for the bus services the company manages (I have been employed in the bus industry for the past 40 years, focused primarily on planning and legal issues). Flag stops used to be more common when buses operated primarily on arterial highways, but with most bus routes now traveling on interstate highways there is much less flagging today. Several years back the late journalist Jim Lehrer--who would most often moderate presidential debates and was also a huge bus enthusiast--wrote the novel White Widow, which had critical to the storyline some would-be passengers attempting to flag down the bus, while its driver was being distracted by a white widow passenger. (A "white widow" is slang for a woman traveling alone.) An excerpt from the book is copied at the end of this message; the Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Libraries has a copy of the book.

 

My first trip to Alaska was in the mid 1980s. Professionally, Alaska is more challenging than many other states because the bus and other transportation services within the state are so much less organized and connective than elsewhere; more recently the same type of problem has arisen in western Canada with the demise of Greyhound Canada . . . it remains a terrible state of affairs for transportation in western Canada, and there is no longer any bus connection going up to Whitehorse, or continuing from Whitehorse into Alaska (but for Skagway). While I think there is opportunity to do business in Alaska, the short tourist season, and low demand for bus service outside that season, makes it difficult to do so. I also edit the definitive bimonthly (and bilingual) transportation timetable for Alaska and Canada, containing detailed information for transportation by motorcoach, railway, ferry, and cruise lines (that is, services that provide point-to-point transportation, not round-trip excursion like many cruise itineraries). For travel agents and independent travelers it is a very useful timetable book, and within the bus trade literature it has been written up with multiple reviews. I am always seeking feedback from those who use the timetable book. I probably know the Alaska bus systems--as a whole--better than all but a small handful of others in the industry and government.

 

Hopefully the above satisfies your curiosity.

 

From Jim Lehrer, White Widow (New York: Random House, 1996), pp. 130-33.

 

     There was a flash of lightening. Were those people up there on the side of the road? Were they waving at him?

     He flashed his lights and goosed the defroster to full power but it was too late. Yes, there were two people! He passed them. They were waving to him, all right, trying to flag him down. My God, why would anybody be standing out in this weather to catch this bus?

     Talk about double pneumonia.

     He braked the bus to a stop, but he did it slowly and carefully to make sure there would be no sliding on the wet pavement.

     He could not see them in the outside rearview mirrors. He had overshot them by a long way. They must be a hundred yards back up there.

     He looked around. Yes, he was on that small stretch two miles this side of Refugio. He saw the the crossroads ahead there with Farm Road 682. There was no traffic; the shoulder was wide enough to accommodate the bus comfortably.

     He threw the feat into reverse. I'll back up awhile and meet those poor people halfway. They must be drenched by now. And if they have any baggage, there is no telling how wet it is.

     Rotating his eyes from the left mirror to the right mirror and then back, he started that bus backing down the shoulder.

     He went twenty years maybe but sill he could see no people. Where were they? Did they give up? Did they think he had not seen them?

     What is that? He got a glimpse of something white on the right. Oh, my God, is it a car?

     He jerked the steering wheel to the right and put on the brakes. He felt a bump against the bus back there. Then another. He had hit something. What?

     Oh, my God.

     It wasn't that hard. It was something soft. A dog? A cow? Right, it was probably another damned calf.

     He knew Ava was watching him but there was nothing he could do about that. She would just have to watch. There was nothing to say to her because he did not know what had happened. All he knew was that he had missed seeing some passengers who wanted to ride his bus. And now he was trying his best to make up for what he had done by backing up toward them and keeping them from getting any wetter than they already were.

     But he didn't have time to tell Ava all of that. Not now. Not right now.

     He yanked up the emergency brake from the floor, grabbed the umbrella and the slicker, hit the door lever and stepped own and out of the bus.

     A stream of rain crashed into his face. The sky lit up. Crack! went some thunder off somewhere.

     He put his right hand against the side of the bus for balance and bearings and moved toward the read. The wind was blowing against him. He put his head down.

     He felt the motor hatch. He was halfway back. He knew the rear tires were coming up.

     Oh, my God, what is that? Something soft. An arm? A leg? He looked down.

     It's a person. Lying under the two dual tires. He saw red running from the person. It was a kid! A girl! She was pinned under the tires.

     She had been almost cut in two by the bus!

     He fell to the ground, to his knees. He saw her face. Her eyes were wide open, starting up at the bottom of that bus.

     Dead. This girl was dead!

     He stood up and stepped away. There was another streak of lightening.

     Somebody else is back there. There's another person back there.

     He came around to the rear of the bus. Lying half under the bus and half out was a grown woman. She was also bleeding, particularly from her mouth and ears. The rain was trying to wash it away the second it came but there was too much. There was too much blood.

     She was dead. She was dead, too. Both of them were dead. He had run over and killed two people. A grown woman and a girl. Both of them. He had run over and killed them with bus #4107.

     He ran with the Indianola wind back to the front of the bus and leaped inside.

     "Everything's fine," he said to Ava and the other passengers. "Sorry for the delay. Everything's fine now. We've got a real Indianola on our hands out there. But everything's fine."

     He tossed the raincoat onto the floor next to his driver's seat, gunned the engine, threw it in first gear and eased off the shoulder onto the highway for Corpus Christi.

     She was looking right at him now. He could feel her eyes on the right side of his face.

     "Everything's fine," he said again but did not look at her.

     I know it is, Jack.

     But they are dead.

     It's going to be all right, Jack.

     I killed them.

     No you didn't, Jack. It was their fault.

     I'll call the highway patrol and an ambulance at Refugion.

     If you do that, you'll lose everything. They'll take away your gold badge, Jack.

     You noticed the badge?

     How could I not notice that, Jack dear.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 10/29/2022 at 8:41 PM, GTJ said:

Easier than renting and operating a vehicle oneself (assuming one is licensed and capable of doing so) would be engaging a taxi or TNC service. None of these options would be inexpensive (what would the cost be for a one-way rental from Seward to Whittier, including drop-off fee?), though the bus service as well would not be inexpensive. Overall, transportation between Seward and Whittier is not very good.

 

I realize that many New Yorkers have never learned to drive but most of the rest of us in the country are "licensed and capable".  I also do not see the relevance of the quote from the White Widow story to the discussion.  

 

DON

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On 10/29/2022 at 12:31 PM, kayehall said:

What cruise lines use Whittier?  Seward?

 

On 10/29/2022 at 1:02 PM, GTJ said:

Whittier is used as a port by the Carnival Corporation subsidiaries (i.e., Holland America Line and Princess Cruises) and by the Alaska Marine Highway. Nearly all other vessels use Seward as their port.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has just begun construction of new dock facilities in Whittier, with an expected completion date of 2024 to accommodate NCL ships as well as Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.  Just FYI.

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16 hours ago, donaldsc said:

 

I realize that many New Yorkers have never learned to drive but most of the rest of us in the country are "licensed and capable".  I also do not see the relevance of the quote from the White Widow story to the discussion.  

 

DON

New York City is the single most important city in the entire United States, and a majority of people therein are not licensed or capable of driving themselves. For the country as a whole, fewer than 85 percent of the people are licensed to operate a motor vehicle. Importantly, the percentage of people so licensed has been steadily decreasing over the past several years. While driving oneself can, in some circumstances, be one option, it is not a panacea, and one should not assume that driving is a viable option for all.

 

The relevance of the excerpt was to provide an example of persons flagging down a bus along a highway, at other than a scheduled stop. There had been some skepticism expressed over people actually flagging down buses on the highway, and rather than relying on relating my own personal anecdotes, I thought a piece of literature authored by a well-known journalist would provide authoritative illustration.

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9 hours ago, don't-use-real-name said:

Just remember that any planning that uses the Port of Whittier - there is that shared rail/highway

TUNNEL to contend with - timing is everything when down to the wire !

While timetables are usually associated with travel by bus, railroad, aircraft, and vessel, and are not relevant to driving, in the case of driving to or from Whittier, motorists must rely on a timetable. The schedule is posted here: http://dot.alaska.gov/creg/whittiertunnel/schedule.shtml. If you're driving, you must plan your travel in accordance with the tunnel timetable.

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