Video Title:  "A History of the Alaska Railroad"
Produced: Produced in 1990, 1995 by KAKM Video (Channel 7, Anchorage AK)
Length:  30 minutes
Reviewer: Paul S. Highland

As its title implies, this video is a concise history of the construction and operations of the Alaska Railroad.  The show starts out with old black -and- white film clips of a passenger train, railroad construction, steamships, riverboats, and gold prospectors.  The following account is what's shown in the video, and is by no means a definitive history.  A number of old photos and films from the era are used to help tell the story.

During the construction of the White Pass & Yukon, The Alaska Central was surveyed in 1898 and construction was  completed in 1904.  In 1905, the Copper River & Western and the Tanana  Valley Railroad (narrow gauge) were both built.  The Alaska Syndicate bought up steamship companies and coal fields.  U.S. President William H. Taft and Congress passed legislation creating a territorial legislature for Alaska.  A map displays the proposed railroad routes between Seward and Fairbanks.

In 1914, Alaska state legislator James Wickersham went to the U.S. Congress to plea for federal funding of a new railroad.  Routes were surveyed, with the more westerly one chosen, and the following year the Alaska Railroad was created.  A work town was set up above Ship Creek and workers were hired to build the line.  Other crude tent camps sprang up; workers barely made enough money to eke out a living.  By May 1916, right -of- way had been cleared, and rough ties and rails were laid.

As World War I dragged on, work on the railroad slowed as workers were drafted into the U.S. Army. The federal government purchased the Tanana Valley Railroad in 1917 and later converted it to standard gauge from Nenana to Fairbanks.  The first shipment of coal came into Anchorage during this time.  More federal money was allocated in 1919, and work progressed, with many tons of rock having to be blasted and excavated and several bridges needed to span rivers.  The Tanana River Bridge was completed in 1923.  President Warren Harding drove the ceremonial golden spike and addressed the people of Fairbanks on July 15, 1923.  (After leaving Alaska, Harding died in office in San Francisco CA on August 2, 1923.)

Beginning in 1928 the line underwent some serious upgrading, and ran deficits every year until 1938.  The railroad carried Army equipment during World War II, and in 1942 a special Army battalion worked on the line.  The Whittier Cutoff was completed in 1943 to serve the port of Whittier.  More funding came in from Congress, and in 1949 the Aurora passenger train service was instituted. Piggyback freight service was begun; a film shows F-units on a freight.  The line suffered heavy damage in the 1964 earthquake but was repaired rather quickly.  The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was built with help from the railroad in the 1970s, and in 1985 the U.S government sold the railroad to the State of Alaska.  Today, in addition to freight, the Alaska Railroad provides flagstop passenger service to residents of remote areas, and an "auto train."

However brief it may be, "A History of the Alaska Railroad" does a pretty good job of telling the story of this interesting line which relies on ship traffic and has no outside rail connections.