Paul Duncan's Trip Report

by Paul Duncan

I finally made my dream railfan trip to Alaska. I spent the entire week from July 15th to July 22nd railfanning and photographing equipment, buildings, and engines to fine tune my layout. The major focus of the trip was to explore the operation so most of this is train operations based. I took 850+ pictures, the bulk of which were of trains so no pictures of moose and limited pictures out of the platform of the passenger train without another train in the shot. Below are the action shots from the trip.


Friday, July 14th and Saturday, July 15th

I flew into Anchorage on Friday, July 14th and stayed at the downtown Hilton in order to get some pics of the yard. Not much was going on that night with the exception of 1551 switching out the
passenger car shop.

The next morning, I made my way down to the depot. My plan was to ride the new Gold Star service north to Fairbanks and work my way back down with a rental car.

Our train pulled up to the depot with flared 70 MAC's 4323 and 4319, one baggage car, the Gold Star car, diner, coach, two domes, coach, and three McKinley Explorer cars.

We departed at 8:15 on the advertised and I snapped several shots of the intermodal facility on the way out of town (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). We hit the new alignment at a gallop and met a southbound gravel train at Reeves with two SD70MAC's, 4014 and 4002, and caboose 1092. I would later see this set several times back in Anchorage.

Our next meet was at Matanuska with the southbound cans with three SD70MAC's about 65 tanks, one car of wheels, one boxcar, and three 3-pack spine cars with all hitches loaded.

We pulled into Talkeetna (1, 2) and I took a shot of the RDC in the spur pulling out of town. Our next meet was at Curry with the southbound Princess train, five cars behind HEP GP40-2 3015 (1, 2). We headed over Hurricane Gulch and met the southbound Star at Honolulu with flared MAC 4324 in the lead.

Station stop at Denali and into the Nenana River Canyon. We met a surfacing gang on the north end of the canyon that had been installing concrete ties.

We came into Healy at restricted speed. A crane had derailed on the derail between the shop and the main so we creeped by it. Caboose 1091 and 1069 were in the yard along with ballast train #3 behind two geeps, GP49 2808 and GP40-2 3008, with caboose 1084. We passed Usibelli and no sign of any coal train. We came through Nenana (1, 2) and met the southbound oil cans out of Fairbanks at Ester with SD70MAC's 4008 and 4007 (1, 2). The train had eight flat cars on the rear. We went by University and into the yard. SD70MAC's 4012, 40??, and 4011 were tied on to some loaded tanks at the west end of the yard ready to go. GP38-2 2005 (1, 2, 3) was putting some tanks together with 2003 parked in the yard. I once again took several pics of the intermodal facility and equipment at the ramp (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

I went to the airport and got my rental car and headed back to the yard to see GP40-2's 3006 and 3001 heading out to North Pole with some tanks. I got a few shots just east of the yard at grade and made my way to the hotel to rest up for a full day's exploration of Fairbanks.


Sunday, July 16th

Sunday, July 16th was spent in and around Fairbanks. I spent the morning watching the southbound Star depart with the same consist I had come north on. After that, I drove around town viewing the yard, old depot, power plant, and several rail served industries. I also took some pictures of some ARR coal hoppers on hand and true Alaska Railroad intermodal hostlers, one Capacity hostler in blue and what looked like two Ottawa's in yellow. I couldn't quite tell from where I was. Thank goodness for zoom lenses, I work for a railroad so I fully respect not trespassing. GP38-2's 2007 and 2008 were parked back to back outside the east end of the shop. 3001 and 3006 looked on as the northbound FOX arrived in the yard with three SD70MAC's (4317, 4013, 4006) (1, 2) and GP40-2 3011. The train doubled into the yard. 4320 and 4006 then coupled up and headed east under the underpass. A crew got on 3001/3006 and began heading east engine lite towards Eielson AFB so I made "chase" catching them at several locations including the long bridge near the Chena River Lake Project. I ended the "chase" just before the base and headed back west. These two units would later bring back some empty hoppers for a Usibelli coal train.

I found 4006 and 4320 at the refinery setting in some empties they'd brought up from the northbound seen earlier. I didn't want to loiter in front of the refinery with a camera so I headed back towards Fairbanks. The two 70MAC's later swapped them out for loads and headed back. I heard over the radio a northbound freight so I got a few shots of it coming into town, missed the power. There was a lull in the action so I headed north and drove up to see the pipeline. I returned and the southbound OX was being built and air tested. I headed out to Happy to wait for the northbound Star after grabbing some food and gas in town. 4324 was leading 4321 elephant style with an ARR baggage car, Gold Star car, diner, coach, two domes, coach, two Royal Caribbean cars, six McKinley Explorer cars, and five Princess cars (1, 2). I got the train again at the overpass near University (1, 2) and again as the train came into the depot. I then headed back out to Happy to catch the southbound OX that had been waiting on the Star and found traces of the Burlington Northern Seward to Fairbanks. It had some DPU problems but eventually made it out with 4006 and 4320 on the head end and 4013/4317 behind 96 tanks with a TTX gondola of scrap, the two ARR center beams, and a gray boxcar bringing up the rear behind the DPU's. It's not often I get to see a 96 car loaded tank train running with DPU 70MAC's in light at 10:00 at night so I headed south chasing it to Nenana and got several shots of it heading over the river at water level in rain and some near the depot (1, 2). I headed back to Fairbanks to get some rest for the next day's chase south.


July 17th Fairbanks to Wasilla

I started my morning heading down to the depot to see the layout and hopefully meet some fellow ARR modelers. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, I saw an intermodal train pulling the ramp with about 3500' of pigs. The crew cut the cars loaded with containers off just east of the overpass. I took several shots of the trailers and train but did not get the engine numbers. The Denali Star was getting ready to go so I didn't make it in to see the layout. I headed out west and got some shots of the train from the bluff at the University (1, 2). The train had 4324 in the lead with 4321 elephant style behind it. The train consist was the typical ARR baggage car, Gold Star car, diner, coach, two domes, coach, two Royal Caribbean cars, and six McKinley cars. I made chase south and caught the train in Nenana as it crossed the river (1, 2) and got a few shots in front of the depot (1, 2). I beat the train to Healy so I refueled and waited for the train at the Healy overpass. The train stopped just shy to pick up an ARR employee (1, 2).

My next shot was at Million Dollar curve and I got a few in the canyon (1, 2). I raced ahead and got to the depot just as it had cleared the crossing. Going off of directions on John's site, I parked and made my way down to Riley Creek to get some bridge shots.

Next, I moved on to Cantwell and got a few shots between there and Summit (1, 2). Two overpasses were being built at the two grade crossings I found in this area so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the next trip that they will be photo-friendly.

My next stop was Talkeetna. I pulled in to town to the grade crossing just north of the depot and got some shots of it passing the RDC in the pocket track (1, 2).

I found another grade crossing near Nancy that I caught the train at. I got ahead of the train in Wasilla and my final shots of it were on the new alignment through town (1, 2).

I stayed at the Best Western just off the tracks west of the depot. I checked in and decided to try something other than the $30.00 plate dinner at the hotel. Just as I was pulling up to the tracks, the crossing gates went down. As luck would have it, it was the northbound tanks.

The train had 4013 in the lead of 4320 with five ARR cement hoppers behind the power, about 50 tanks, gray boxcar, four intermodal flats, and five three-packers. The train had several interesting trailers including a former Santa Fe 48'. I caught the train again on the overpass in Nancy.

I headed back south and took some shots of a parked ballast train at Houston. The power was 2807 in the lead of 2802 with some of the 7100 ballast hoppers and Difco cars. The caboose was behind a tree so I couldn't get the number or a picture.

I headed back into Wasilla only to hear a gravel train calling the dispatcher saying they were at Palmer ready to head south. The dispatcher gave them a signal so I shot the train at the Old Richardson Highway Overpass. 4002 was leading 4011 with caboose 1092 bringing up the rear. I chased the train and got it again at Birchwood. By this time, the sun was finally starting to set on a good day of railfanning.


Tuesday, July 18th.

I checked out of the Wasilla hotel in the morning hoping I would be able to catch the southbound freight. I waited around a bit and caught the train at the Old Richardson Highway overpass. 4005 was leading 4015 and 4012 with 70 loaded tanks and two three-packers with all hitches loaded. I got ahead of the train and took some shots coming around the curve on the road to Beach Lake. I came into Anchorage and headed down towards the yard. On my way there, I heard the Whittier Shuttle calling the dispatcher saying they had just left Anchorage. I had planned on being in Anchorage on Wednesday to chase this train south based on when I had heard the train ran but I decided to make chase considering this would be my opportunity. Not knowing exactly where the train was and still being on the wrong side of Anchorage, I headed south and paralleled the railroad to Whittier without capturing the train. I'd later find out the train was between Anchorage and the asphalt plants and I was ahead of it.

I purchased my ticket through the tunnel and emerged into Whittier. Driving through the tunnel is well worth the price of admission. I headed down towards the yard and saw the barge coming into Whittier still a way's off in the Sound. I took this opportunity to take a few detail shots of the BC Rail flats we've been discussing that were sitting in the yard adjacent to the dock.

The barge was nearly full and I took several detail shots of the variety of loads on it. To my surprise, there was actually a Hub Group Jindo box in the stack on dock and an EMP container on the barge. I was unaware that domestic containers from the lower 48' made it up this way.

I found some elevation and caught the train coming in with a solid set of loaded intermodal flats and two used bulldozer loads on flatcars chained down . ARR 2004 was leading 2809 and 3013 with about 4500' of train. They pulled in and doubled in from the east. While the barge was getting set up, the crew switched out the two tractor loads. I used this opportunity to unload some pixels on the variety of flats and loads on the train.

I headed back up towards the tunnel to the depot to see the Glacier Explorer come in. RDC 711 was on the rear with a few passenger cars and 3010 on the point.

The train made its stop and headed back out. By this time, the crew was getting ready to pull cars off the barge so I watched them make two pulls. They were getting near making the last pull by about 19:30 so I decided to head back through the tunnel while I could and wait for it there.

I decided to find some good shots along Turnagain Arm to capture the two passenger trains while I waited. I chased the Glacier Explorer north getting it at several locations (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and then doubled back to get the Seward train. It was led by 4318 with HEP P-30 behind it, baggage car, and seven passenger cars including three domes (1, 2, 3). I waited around for the Whittier train to no avail. I assumed that since I had left Anchorage around 11:00 and it was getting to be 23:00, the crew must have gone dead at Whittier although I didn't hear any radio chatter to suggest that. I headed back into Anchorage to the hotel for some much needed food and sleep.


Wednesday, July 19th

I wanted to focus a day on taking some industry and yard shots. I woke up and heard a gravel train coming into one of the dump sites south of Anchorage with the same consist seen several times during the trip, 4002 and 4011 with caboose 1092. Knowing the unload would take some time, I headed up towards the yard and heard the Palmer Turn working the panel factory in Birchwood. I got to Birchwood just as the train was leaving so I nabbed it crossing the Knik River with 3014 leading 3001 and two gondolas for Spenard Building Supply in Palmer. There is no run around track up the branch so the local turned on the balloon loading track at the Central Paving gravel pit. I followed it up the branch and spent some time taking pictures of the mines' loaders from the road.

I headed back to Birchwood to get the empty gravel train heading back to the pit (1, 2). I shot it crossing the Knik River bridge. The local's crew had come down the branch and the dispatcher said they were going to wait on the southbound passenger train. It was led by 4324 and 4321 and the usual consist.

I went back into Anchorage and took some shots of the various industries in and around town. Number 1551 was in the yard switching some intermodal flats out the west end. The northbound Glacier had 3010 in the lead when it pulled into the depot and the Seward train had 4318.

From public property, I could see the Alco switcher inside the Anchorage port cutting up some tanks. 4002 called out his arrival into Anchorage and I shot it at the crossing near the intermodal facility. I did not get a lot of train shots this day but the industry shots were worth getting for future reference.


Thursday, July 20th

I set the alarm early and headed out to Eklutna to wait for the southbound freight. The dispatcher told him they would be meeting the northbound passenger train in the siding, I was in luck. 4012, 4015, and 4005 headed into the siding with about 80 tanks. The northbound passenger train had 4317 and 4321 elephant style. I headed to Birchwood and caught the tanks again and decided to try for the shot I had always wanted to get, an ARR train with Denali in the background. With perfectly clear skies, I made chase on the passenger train to the small scenic pull-off just south of the Talkeetna depot and caught the train in the foreground with a cloudless sky backdrop of Denali. Despite the distance I drove to get the picture, it was worth every mile.

I headed back south to Pittman and saw 2802 and 2807 running around their ballast train to head north with some rock to dump near Cantwell. I continued into Wasilla and grabbed some food. I parked at Birchwood to wait for the southbound passenger train with 4323 in the lead and 4319 behind with the usual consist of baggage car, Gold Star car, diner, coach, two domes, coach, two Royal Caribbean cars, six McKinley Explorer cars, and four Princess cars. The dispatcher said they would be meeting a northbound at Reves so I waited. The northbound had 4005 leading 4015 and 4012, same inbound consist on the morning tank train, with five ARR cement hoppers, about 10 containers on flats, a mix of seven tanks and covered hoppers from the lower 48, 15 more intermodal flats with containers, ten tank cars for North Pole, and eleven more platforms of intermodal with trailers on them including two amusement park rides on trailers loaded TOFC. There is a gradual S-curve just north of Eklutna on the highway where you can pull off and get a shot. I took a few there and then met the train in front of the Wasilla depot.

I headed back into Anchorage to get some shots of the Seward train on the platform with 4324, HEP unit, baggage car, diner, three coaches, and three domes. I heard 4002 coming up to the yard so headed up to the overpass at the east side of the depot to get a going away picture of the gravel train to end the day (1, 2).


Friday, July 21st.

The one disappointment from the trip was that I never did see a Seward coal train. July is when the railroad puts all of its MAC’s against general freight and passenger trains. I wanted to see the line though before I headed home so I started Friday morning off along Turnagain Arm to chase the southbound passenger train. F40PH 31 was leading 4318. Behind the power was the baggage car, diner, bi-level, coach, dome, two more coaches, and another dome (1, 2, 3).

I heard a train coming up to Portage that the dispatcher was going to hold for the passenger train so I slipped ahead and found 2809 and 2004 coming up from Whittier with some empty flats and some tanks. I wanted to get a shot on the bridge just north of the depot so I made my way down to the bank in pouring rain to get it. I then headed south towards Seward and waited for the train at the long bridge north of Divide. I drove ahead into Seward and caught it again as it pulled into the depot.

I headed back north and did not see any trains all the way to Anchorage. I went straight to the yard and caught the rear end of the northbound gravel train, 4002 and 4011 with caboose 1092. I headed east to Eklutna and shot the train on the curve.

I drove into Wasilla and grabbed something to eat and waited until the southbound passenger train showed up. 4317 was leading 4321 and the usual passenger consist through Eklutna. By this time, the gravel train was finishing loading so I took some pictures of it along Highway 1. I headed back to Eklutna to catch it heading towards Anchorage (1, 2). I did not hear evidence of any other imminent train movements over the scanner so I went back to the hotel to pack for the next day's flight home.


Saturday, July 22nd.

The Alaska Railroad went out with a bang on my final day in Alaska. I checked out of the hotel early on Saturday morning and headed down to the yard and caught the southbound 4002/4011 gravel train coming into town. I took some roster shots from up above the diesel shop on the north side (1, 2) and heard the dispatcher clearing up limits on a southbound north of Wasilla. I met this train at Birchwood. 4003 was leading 3014 with a gondola, a flat with an ARR truck on it, six cement hoppers, two intermodal flats, two covered hoppers, four white tanks, three more gondolas, four three packers loaded up with Sealand and Maersk containers TOFC and some open Sealand racks, five more loaded flats, ten empty flats, and a company boxcar. Neat train. The dispatcher was calling 3011 south near Pittman saying their re-crew would be at Wasilla. 3011 came through town with five Princess cars. I got this train at the Knik River bridge. Lunch in Wasilla and talk on the radio about another southbound. F40PH 32 came through Eklutna with six of the former-Florida Fun Train cars and one bi level with SD70MAC 4322 shoving from the rear. This train met the northbound gravel train so I again caught it coming north with 4002/4011 in Eklutna (1, 2). The northbound freight was approaching right behind on the main line with 4004/4012/4015/4005 company boxcar, three cement hoppers, a flat of ties, and about ninety tanks. The dispatcher was going to hold it there for the southbound passenger train with 4323/4319. This crew was running short on time so they put a dog catch on at Reeves. I headed into town and watched as it came into the depot. My flight out was at 23:00 so I bid farewell to the ARR. I took a total of 850+ pictures and made Hertz rethink letting me ever have unlimited miles on a car again.



© 2006 Paul Duncan