1973-1984 Passenger Car Synopsis
by Jason Kuehn


I came onto the Alaska Railroad scene in the summer of 1973. I really don't know much about things prior to that time as there is a real gap of about a decade in information between the end of the Bernadine Prince book in 1964 and the mid-1970's/early 1980's. I am not sure when the UP cars were purchased. Since Amtrak was created in 1971, I believe they first were used in Alaska in the 1972 season since Amtrak purchased very few of the UP cars favoring Budd stainless steel cars instead. However, 1973 may have been their debut in the Railbelt as well as mine. Pat Durand or Curt Fortenberry may know exactly. Prior to the UP cars' arrival, the hospital cars were used.

As an interesting aside, the UP cars retained the same yellow that the UP used and all the ARR applied was a blue stripe over the gray and red top and bottom bands on the UP cars for a quicky paint job. The gray roof was also retained.

In the summer of 1973 the "typical" passenger train was composed entirely of ex-UP cars. A typical consist was two F-7's equipped with steam generators (the 1509, 1512, 1514, and 1517 were all painted in a blue and yellow scheme to match the passenger cars that many people call the DOT scheme). The usual engine consist was an FP-7 and an F-7B both equipped with steam generators. The 1509 was retired in 1975, I think, so A-B sets in matching paint were more rare and the 1510 in black and yellow showed up on trains quite often.

A typical Memorial Day to Labor Day train consist was as follows:
2 baggage cars
2 coaches
1 lunch counter
1 diner
1 vista dome
1 coach
1 1 vista dome
1 coach

Smaller consists were used between Labor Day and Memorial Day and these trains often ran as mixed trains with 4 to as many as 20 freight cars behind the passenger consist. Mixed trains always had a caboose after the freight consist. A typical off-season consist was one baggage, one coach, one lunch counter or diner, and another coach. Daily service usually started the week before Memorial Day and lasted a week or two after Labor Day and and the consist might be 6 cars and include a dome car. It was unusual for a dome car to be used after the winter schedule was instated. Apparently the tunnels in the canyon could develop icicles creating a hazard for the dome cars in the winter.

Winter service was north on Tuesday and Saturday and south on Wednesday and Sunday through about 1976 or 1977 I believe, when the local mail contract was lost to truck and then the train only ran north on Saturday and south on Sunday.

A number of the old hospital cars remained in service as back up equipment, many still in the old blue and yellow (that matched the as delivered F unit paint scheme) and several which were repainted in the blue and yellow to match the UP cars. Two old hospital combination cars were the regular consist on the Whittier shuttle and if a large group was expected a former hospital car coach would be added. I never saw former UP equipment on the Whittier shuttle in the 1970's.

If needed for extra space or to substitute for a bad ordered car, the hospital cars could be called into Anchorage-Fairbanks service. I have pictures of coaches, baggage, and diners occaisionally mixed with UP cars. For a week or two after the wreck in 1975 when a freight train rammed the back of a passenger train at Hurricane, the trainset involved in the wreck was taken out of service for testing and inspection and the hospital cars were used to replace that train set. The wreck destroyed (buckled) one of the dome cars killing one passenger. After the wreck one consist operated with only one dome car and and additional coach and one consist carried two dome cars.

When one trainset was pulled out of service around 1980 for rebuilding and equipping with HEP at GE, the railroad purchased a number of second hand cars from the Southern railroad (8 stainless steel steam heated and air conditioned coaches) and leased from four former GN? budd smooth side dome cars and purchased two former ATSF stainless steel diners from Amtrak. The rebuilding took two years and included only one dome car. The stainless steel cars pretty much marked the end of the old hospital cars except for the combination cars used on the Whittier shuttle and a coach or two. The combination cars survived on the shuttle since they were equipped with their own generators for lighting and oil stoves for heat and did not require a steam generator or HEP equipped locomotive or support car.

During the rebuilding, one Anchorage-Fairbanks consist usually consisted of all former UP cars with just one dome. The other consist often had two UP baggage cars, two southern coaches, a UP lunch counter, and an ATSF diner, a Southern coach, a UP dome, and one or two more Southern coaches. The GN domes and ATSF diners had blue paint applied over the Amtrak red white and blue striping. The Southern cars did not have any striping. I believe all the stainless cars had the round ARR logo applied in the window band. This was a pretty motley train set.

Because the Southern coaches used steam (versus a diesel engine as on the UP cars) to drive their air conditioners, the motley train often included the P-4 steam generator car since with the retirement of the 1509 and the 1514 (not really retired, but taken out of service for a rebuilding that was never completed) only three steam generator equipped F's remained and it took two generators to supply the motley train's voracious appetite for steam. The all UP set also required steam - although only for heating. The P-5 and P-6 were also acquired from Amtrak, I think at the same time the stainless equipment was acquired, to provide additional steam generation. However, it seemed that the P-4 still got used a lot, possibly because it wasn't as heavy.

As I recall none of the UP baggage cars were removed from service and sent to GE for refurbishment but two were repainted inside and out and equipped with HEP by the ARR during the winter. A baggage car does not require a lot of refurbishment and I don't think there were many surplus baggage cars around. In fact I think Amtrak was converting heritage coaches into baggage cars around this time period.

The refurbished train set had the round ARR logo applied in the yellow window band. and were painted yellow and blue versus the original more gold UP yellow. The P-30 also entered service with the refurbished train set. Until the 1503 was rebuilt, the P-30 was the only source of HEP and was always in the consist with the refurbished train.

In 1982 a typical consist was all UP cars again but each consist typically only had one dome car and the third dome was held in Anchorage for special trains along with the Southern coaches and former GN domes. I don't recall seeing either of the ATSF diners in service after the refurbished train returned to service. The GN domes were only leased from Amtrak and I think they were also returned fairly quickly and I believe Amtrak placed them in service again for awhile upon their return.

Sometime in the early 1980's, the railroad also began using wire cage containers to expedite baggage handling and better stack luggage. This eliminated the need for a baggage man on the passenger train and also enabled them to use only one baggage car. This became very important as the train size grew with the addition of private domes. As the train size grew three F's or E's had to be used for power and the platform lengths in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Denali became issues. To speed up the schedules more horsepower was used and the RDC cars were purchased to allow the train to skip the local stops.

I believe it was 1983 when the Rio Grande Zephyr was discontinued and I believe four of those domes migrated north and were used with the Southern coaches for cruise ship and other special trains but they seldom, if ever were used on the Anchorage-Fairbanks trains. In 1984 Cunard was using Whittier as a port once a week or maybe every two weeks. I think they were the first to use cruise ship trains.

In 1985 the Korean cars were placed in service and the Tour Alaska private domes entered service in 1984 or 1985 followed by Westours in 1986 or 1987. The number of railroad owned cars needed on the Anchorage to Fairbanks train dropped to only 4 or 5. The former SP double deck commuter cars better accommodated the large crowds from the cruise ships. The stainless cars were pretty worn inside having never been refurbished or HEP equipped so the railroad began disposing of the un-rebuilt UP cars and the Stainless steel cars I think around 1989. My last year in Alaska was 1984 and I wasn't around to be sure of the exact dates. The next big change was the addition of the Florida fun-train cars which is well covered on your web site.


© 2004 Jason Kuehn unless otherwise noted
Page created 2/23/04 and last updated 2/23/04