Ted Smith-Peterson Trip Report

by Ted Smith-Peterson

I was finally able to get all the train pictures from my recent Alaska trip in order and photoshopped. In brief, this past Monday I returned from an eight day trip where the primary objective was to see and photograph the northern lights, trains were a close second in priority. In review, I'm very pleased to say both goals were satisfactorily achieved. Though I'm only sharing the trains segment with you all, I have a ton of northern light, wilderness, winter sport and random photos so if you want to see those once I have those fixed up, let me know.

1624 photos
Coldest temp: -31
Coldest temp while taking pictures: -22
3 Moose
4 Caribou
3 Bald Eagles
1 Lynx (!)

Special thanks to Mel Patrick, Justin Tognetti and Paul Janssen for allowing use of their equipment as essential components for this trip. When shooting the Northern Lights, several times I had two cameras set up on tripods and taking photos at different time intervals and different exposure lengths.

It was a heck of a trip, and this is just the rail component of what I shot. No doubt I would do it again, it didn't take long to acclimate to the temperatures so long as the wind stayed calm, but once a breeze kicked up it was over, take shelter! This is also why I missed WR this year, I had to recoup and get myself back in order.

image Brookman: This train is traveling north towards Anchorage having originated from Whittier with a fresh load of CN barge traffic. Between Portage and S. Anchorage the ARR right of way and Seward highway run on the same side of the Turnagain Arm making chasing exceptionally easy. This was shot from one of many scenic turnouts off the highway. 3/4/11
image Clear: Photo taken between Healy and Nenana AK, best estimate is that we're still 75 miles south of Fairbanks. The train is slowing to drop a cut of loaded coal cars, this is the only time I saw the exhaust form as a cloud as I believe the temperature was -10 at the time. 3/1/11
image Eklutna: With dull light, a pending coal train and limited photo options, my mind instantly thought this would be a great opportunity for a pan shot. 3/5/11
image Ferry: It's 10:30pm north of Healy AK, and again the temperature is in the minus when the dull throb of the nightly Fairbanks/Anchorage train pulses through the air. Within moments the tops of trees light are illuminated by the passing southbound while a minor Aurora skies overhead. 3/3/11
image Honolulu: The first chase of the trip was this southbound loaded coal train which pulled through Cantwell AK at the same time the sun was peaking over the surrounding mountaintops at 8:30. Thirty miles and one hour later came this shot between the siding of Honolulu and Hurricane Gulch. 3/2/11
image Hurricane: Fifteen minutes after tagging the train at Honolulu, I slipped down the ARR maintenance road and picked off this wedgie of the southbound coal load throttling up at Hurricane. 3/2/11
image Hurricane Gulch: The train Gods blessed me on this day. I was duly informed southbound freight trains were near impossible to photograph on the massive Hurricane Gulch span owing to nocturnal scheduling of freight movements. It happened to be my luck the southbound Fairbanks/Anchorage train was delayed by 14 hours thanks to a dispatcher who didn't show up for their midnight shift, effectively shutting down the railroad and allowing me the opportunity to catch this night owl in broad daylight. Some lighthearted snowshoeing was required for this photo as there is no public road access regardless of season. 3/3/11
image Hurricane Gulch: The going away shot of the mid train DPU cut in approx. halfway through the southbound Fairbanks/Anchorage train. DPUs are a routine part of ARR operations, used in both general freight and coal train movements. 3/3/11
image Nenana: This picturesque depot is also home to the Alaska museum of railroading. 3/1/11
image Nenana Bridge: After passing through the town of Nenana the tracks do a peculiar about face in crossing over the Tanana River. Five minutes earlier this same train was virtually running along the riverbank, but then the tracks swing south and begin ascending an inclined horseshoe in order to reach the photographed span. 3/1/11
image Portage: Saturday's weekly charter train, and I finally get some snowfall! The tides of the Turnagain Arm fluctuate greatly, causing large chunks of ice to break off and form large protrusions such as this one in the foreground. 3/5/11
image Rabbit: Final shot from Friday 3/4 is this pacing shot taken on the last stretch where highway/rails parallel each other before taking different routes through greater Anchorage. This is the same Whittier train bringing up CN carloads floated from Canada for Anchorage and beyond. 3/4/11
image Riley Creek: Riley Creek trestle is located with Denali Natl Park boundaries, and this photo was taken from the shoulder of the primary road leading into the park beyond the visitor center. This is the same Fairbanks/Anchorage train running 14 hours late, after this shot I bypassed all other potential photo opportunities so that I could give myself enough time to snowshoe out to Hurricane Gulch knowing the Hurricane Gulch shot would be a crown jewel opportunity I'd be a fool to pass up. 3/3/11
image Summit: Finding locations where I could get sun on the fast progressing morning southbound was pointless, so I had to shoot what I could as the train continued south through Broad Pass. 3/2/11
image Summit: This train's verberations made it known I had to hurry as I checked out of my lodging in Cantwell AK, this train was the first road movement I came across on my trip hence my eagerness to give chase. This is the first shot of the day, right where the Parks Highway crosses over the tracks at Summit. 3/2/11


© 2011 Ted Smith-Peterson