James Ogden's Trip Report

(May 20-23, 2004)

by James Ogden

image May 20, 2009;  While waiting for the Whittier Tunnel to open eastbound, the daily train to Whittier came along and headed into the darkness, lead by the Chugach Explorer car, #751, and pushed by SD70MAC #4321.
image May 25, 2009; When there was down time between bus tours, transfers, or whatever was scheduled for the day, we often staged them on what we called "Railroad Hill," which is where E street turns and goes down the hill towards the Anchorage Depot.  I had just dropped off some people at that morning's Denali Star, and managed to get back around to the hill and parked in time to snap one quick photo of the McKinley Explorer car Talkeetna bringing up the rear of the train.
image July 13, 2009; A few photos in a series of the Denali Express arriving in Whittier, on a typical gloomy, overcast (although dry) Whittier day.  I had dropped off a bus full of cruise passengers for the Island Princess, and was then asked to head over to the railroad yard.  When the Denali Express arrived, the passengers would detrain and walk across the street to board the ship.  Once the train was empty, it would pull into the yard and the service staff on board would get off and I would drive them back to Anchorage.  While they finished up their work, the train crew would run the engine around the train and get ready to pull the empty cars back to Anchorage.  Little did I know I would be riding that beautiful MAC around the yard with the crew as they ran around the train.  My camera was close by, in the bus, but not close enough, when the engineer invited me up!  He had seemed friendly enough as they rolled by me in the yard, so I walked over to chat for a minute, while the staff was putting everything away and packing up.  That process usually took an additional 10 to 15 minutes after the train stopped in the yard.  While talking to the engineer, I did something I did not usually do-I asked if I could come up in the cab.  He said that would be fine, and so I climbed up.  I was only planning on a quick look around, since I knew they had work to do, but the next thing I knew, the engine was moving again, and the Princess cars were getting smaller!  I looked over and asked if it was time for me to get off and the engineer (I really wish I could remember his name!) just smiled and said, "Nope, you can come along for a ride."  By then I couldn't hide the big goofy smile so I just enjoyed the ride, however short it was!  After we made the joint on the rear end of the train, I climbed off the locomotive and found that my bus was full and everyone was ready to go.  They were just a bit puzzled about where their driver had wandered off to!  I swear, they were off the train and ready to go in record time that day, when I was having fun on the engine!  As far as I can work out, that is the only time I got paid to go for a little cab ride!
image July 19, 2009; Once again, work had me headed to the railroad, and I wasn't complaining!  I was in Portage, to meet the returning Glacier Discovery train, which would be full of exhausted people after a full day of hiking and rafting.  Most would want to jump on the bus back to Anchorage, rather than go through Whittier again on the train.  As I was waiting, I knew the southbound Cruise Train would be along sooner or later, because it was Sunday afternoon and Holland America had a ship in Seward.  They always chartered a Cruise Train from the Anchorage Airport to the pier in Seward.  I was just hoping it would meet the Glacier Discovery train south of Portage.  If the Glacier Discovery train got to Portage first, I knew I would have a hard time convincing a bus load of people to stick around for pictures of a train racing through Portage on a cold and wet day!  Well, as luck would have it, the Cruise Train did arrive first, and I managed to snap off a few photos before getting totally drenched!  Incidentally, the engineer was the same one who had let me check out and ride the yard in #4322 just a few days earlier, in Whittier.  Within just a few minutes, the Cruise Train was out of sight again, and I got back in the bus to dry off and warm up before the other train arrived.
image August 1, 2009; Once again, I was assigned to make a run down to Portage and meet the Glacier Discovery train so I could drive people back to Anchorage.  The weather was nice, and I got there early, so I was able to enjoy the great weather for a little while before the train arrived.  When it did arrive, I was ready with the camera and took several pictures as it entered the station and the crew made preparations to disembark passengers.  Once the passengers began getting off, they filed onto my bus, and it was time to go back to work and put the camera away.  But I was sure glad to get to drive along Turnagain Arm and get a few pictures of the railroad on such a gorgeous day!
image August 17, 2009; I had just dropped off passengers for the morning departure of the Denali Star, and I had noticed the Denali car on the end of the train as I was turning the bus around.  I hurried back to the hill in front of the depot, with the plan that I would park the bus and walk back down to the crossing and get pictures as it departed.  Unfortunately, the traffic lights, and everything else was working against me!  I made it back to the hill, but found that there was exactly one space big enough to get the bus into, and it would require me to parallel park.  I don't know if you have ever tried to parallel park a 45 foot motor coach, but it does take a few minutes!  By the time I had the bus nicely tucked away against the curb and secured, the gates were down and the train was moving.  I knew I would not make it down to the crossing in time, so I just positioned myself between trees as best I could and tried to get the car.  I really would love to see that car more, and maybe even come up with a good reason to charter it someday!
image August 29, 2009; At this point I cannot remember what I was doing at the Anchorage depot at nearly 11:00pm, but I do remember I was working.  Apparently one of my bus driving duties took me there.  I remember parking the bus out front and walking into the depot, looking for someone or something.  The depot was deserted, and so I walked out the back door, to see if there was anything going on, which is where I found the train.  It had been that day's Glacier Discovery train, back from Whittier and Grandview, just waiting for someone to come out and move the train to the yard for the night.  Behind the train, the sun was just setting behind Mt. Susitna.

September 4, 2009; It was a busy day in Seward, with two cruise ships and the Epson Trader loading Alaska coal, which was rumored to be going to South Korea.  Unfortunately I have nothing more than rumors to back that up.  Cruise ships in port were Holland America Line's Ryndam and Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas.  The Epson Trader would be the longest in port, as it takes up to several days to fully load the ship with coal.

image September 10, 2009; The northbound Denali Star train travels alongside the Susitna River, with a backdrop of the Alaska Range.  I managed to get a few days off from work and hop on the train for a round trip to Denali.  I just stayed overnight there, but it was still nice to get on the train and go somewhere!
image September 10, 2009; Fall in Alaska is my favorite time of year.  This was near Broad Pass, where it looked considerably more like fall than it had a few hours earlier, in Anchorage.
image September 10, 2009; I spent most of the trip to Denali on the rear platform of the train, enjoying the views, fresh air, and cool breeze.  My girlfriend at the time, who has since married me, though I was crazy and spent more time in the climate controlled environment of the dome.  She was and continues to be patient with my interest in trains and railroading. While I was out on the rear platform, I did take this picture of the train rounding a curve.  I suppose it is a pretty typical train trip shot.
image September 10, 2009; I also got a little more creative while out on the rear platform, and came up with this one.  This is looking over the end of the car, where the diaphragm and buffer plate are located.  We actually were not moving that fast, and the first couple of times I tried the shot, the ties and track came out crisp and clear, making it look like we were stopped, so I had to leave the shutter open longer to get the slightly blurred track effect that I wanted.
image September 10, 2009; We went in the hole at Summit, to meet the southbound Denali Star, which was apparently running late.  We were there several minutes before them, and so I took the chance to get another picture of our train.  As usual, when the southbound train came alongside us, they stopped and exchanged supplies and greetings with the service staff on our train.
image September 10, 2009; After waiting only a few minutes, the southbound Denali Star came alongside our train.  In total, I think we were only there about ten minutes to meet them.  Once we got going again, the next stop was at Denali Park.
image September 11, 2009; SD70MAC #4327 leads the southbound Denali Star into the Denali Park station.  She would lead us home to Anchorage that afternoon.
image September 11, 2009; Two beautiful Alaskan ladies lead our train into the Denali Park station.  Incidentally, the 4322 was the unit on which I rode around the Whittier yard, in July 2009.  She has always managed to appear near me for some reason.  Almost every time I ride the train in Alaska, 4322 is around.
image September 11, 2009; Several hours later, in Anchorage, I opted to walk from the Princess cars up to the depot, rather than use the shuttle bus provided.  While I was walking up, I stopped to take a few pictures of the proceedings at the depot.  The train is split in two, and the Alaska Railroad cars and Royal Celebrity cars, if there are any, are pulled up to the depot for unloading, while the McKinley Explorer and Princess cars are left on the other side of C street, where there is a paved area, for unloading.  When I was assigned to meet the train at work, we would pull the buses up into that paved area and line up in the same order as the rail cars, so that people could get off the train and be close to their bus.  Of course, a bus is only half the length of the rail cars, but lining up in order minimized the walking required for the passengers.  And yes, we always did have a bus or two that took people from there to the depot, if they were not continuing to travel with either Holland America or Princess.  Most people laughed when that bus stopped at the depot, only 40 seconds later!
image September 11, 2009; Another shot of the train in Anchorage.  It is easier to see the McKinley Explorer and Princess cars in this one.
image September 11, 2009; It is definitely autumn, because it is only about 8:30pm, and the sun is already setting, leaving silhouettes of the train and people moving around at the Anchorage depot.  Passengers are getting off and workers are hurrying to unload all the luggage and get it to the right place for people to claim.
image September 14, 2009; This is a picture spot I had wanted to stop at all summer.  I regularly drove to Whittier to meet the Princess and Carnival cruise ships, and Seward to meet Holland America ships, and I always wanted to stop and get pictures of the trains traveling along Turnagain Arm.  Since I did not have a car, driving down on my own was not an easy option, and doing at work depended on convenient scheduling.  I saw the trains many times along Turnagain arm, both freight and passenger, but every time I had either been chasing them, and could not get far enough ahead to stop and get pictures, or I had been pretty short on time, and could not risk missing a tunnel opening to get a picture of the train.  On this particular morning, I had managed to get everything done at the office in record time and hit the road.  I did that knowing the Coastal Classic would be heading south at about the same time, and I intended to catch it and get a picture!  I only wish I had done it sooner in the summer, because by September, it is no longer sunny at 6:30am!
image September 14, 2009; The southbound Coastal Classic passes the first pull out south of Potter Marsh along the Seward Highway.  I was happy to finally get a picture of the train along Turnagain Arm, even if it did not come out as well as I had hoped for.


© 2012 James Ogden