The Alaska Railroad is celebrating 100 years. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Railroad

Throughout its 100 year history, the Alaska Railroad has endured and recovered, transformed, expanded and thrived.

“Like Alaska itself, the Alaska Railroad story is full of peaks and valleys,” reads an excerpt from the Alaska Railroad website. “Every mile of this legendary railroad was hard earned through grit, bravery, faith, and lots of sweat. As daunting as the obstacles were at times, the Railroad moved forward, persevering and overcoming. It’s this epic journey that has made Alaska Railroad the backbone of the Last Frontier.”

The legendary railroad now runs 28 diesel-electric, 4,000 horsepower locomotives, that services both people and moves goods throughout the state of Alaska.

The Alaska Railroad was built and owned by the federal government until 1985. That year it was sold for $22.3 million and became the property of the state.

“The state recognized the benefits of it and purchased it. It was set up by the Legislature at the time as a state-owned corporation,” said Alaska Railroad president and CEO Bill O’Leary. “This one was set up to be self-sufficient and we have to go out and earn its keep for the most part, and that’s what we do through freight services, passengers services and our real estate services that we provide.”

The Alaska Railroad has a sole shareholder, and that’s the state of Alaska. There is a robust network of connections to the state, with a seven-person board of directors that are appointed by the governor.


“We are here to be in support of the state,” said O’Leary.

During a normal operating year, O’Leary shared, over half a million passengers ride the train, while the railroad moves roughly 4 million tons of freight. Moving freight is “absolutely critical” to Alaska’s economy, shared O’Leary, stretching from Seward to Fairbanks.

“If you think about not having the railroad in place, you think about what the impact would be on other existing infrastructure and you have a situation that becomes very clear: the railroad has to survive, it has to be there for the good citizenry of Alaska,” said O’Leary.

It is said that flag stop service in the country has come to a halt, except for on the Alaska Railroad. The Hurricane Turn train provides that service in the backcountry, running two different routes year-round.

“There are people in Alaska that want to live a rural lifestyle, north of Talkeetna,” said Dale Wade, the vice president of marketing and customer service. “As a state-owned corporation, we are here to serve those individuals.”

The route runs from Talkeetna up to the Hurricane Bridge and comes back down, into a “push, pull” arrangement.

“The Hurricane Turn resides in Talkeetna, Alaska. And from Talkeetna north it’s a self-sustaining environment,” Wade said. “We do provide a flag stop service: you could wave a flag, a t-shirt, or a bush. We would stop the train, and you could get on and bring your goods with you.”

O’Leary said that the railroad will be here for people to enjoy for many years to come, cruising through the rugged, beautiful terrain of the last frontier.

“This railroad will continue for the foreseeable future. This railroad is such a critical piece of infrastructure, Alaska really needs a strong railroad, it is absolutely necessary and important that this railroad continues,” he said. “There is a nostalgia piece to it. In a lot of places, we get off the road system, you are seeing parts of Alaska that you are not going to be able to see unless you are on the Alaska railroad.”

For more information on how to book a trip on the railroad, visit the website at