The conductor is on the front platform of a southbound Alaska Railroad cruise ship charter as the train approaches Brookman siding. A freight is holding the main, so the conductor will have to drop down to align the hand-throw switch so his train can enter the siding, then reset the switch to normal so the freight can proceed.
Welcome to Photo Line! There is no place quite like Alaska for railroading. Remote and rugged, the land challenges the trains and the railroaders who operate there. The visiting photographer also faces many obstacles due to the lack of access to much of the railroad. However, one stretch below Anchorage yields some of the finest photography to be found in North America with plentiful access and stunning scenery. Join editor Steve Barry as he takes a trip from Whittier towards Anchorage to witness some of this heavy railroading first hand.
Waiting at Whittier
A charter for Holland America/Princess has dropped its passengers in Whittier and will wait four hours while they enjoy a short boat ride around the port. Whittier is also a port of call for cruise ships and day trips to Anchorage by train are not uncommon for ship passengers.
Approaching the tunnel
The Gold Star class double-deck cars have an open viewing platform on the second level, allowing a view over the Alaska Railroad's single-level cars. Just over the short dome is the entrance to the Anton Anderson Tunnel, the only way out of Whittier for trains and autos.
The west end of the Anton Anderson Tunnel brings trains into Bear Valley, a short one mile flat spot between two mountains. This train is actually an eastbound train going away, being pulled into the tunnel; locomotives are on both ends of many trains to expedite reverse moves.
Bear Valley Tunnel
The west end of Bear Valley also has a tunnel which allows trains to access the Alaska Railroad main line at Portage. An eastbound special for the National Railway Historical Society's 2013 national convention is Whittier-bound out of the portal.
Bridging the 20 Mile River
The Whittier Branch joins the main line at Portage, about halfway between Anchorage and Seward. Just north of Portage trains cross 20 Mile River on a long bridge, one of three bridges in quick succession on this part of the main line.
Descending snow line north of Portage
The snow line is almost to sea level on the mountains along Turnagain Arm as a southbound Alaska Railroad train passes MP 65 north of Portage. This train will stay on the main south of Portage to Spencer, where a stop will be made to view glaciers. The train will then reverse direction back up the main to Portage and head for Whittier.
Waterfall near Girdwood
A northbound freight passes a small waterfall north of Girdwood with a load of pipe for the booming oil industry. Girdwood and Alyeska are very popular destinations for people seeking extreme winter sports.
Along Turnagain Arm
That same northbound freight rolls along Turnagain Arm near the siding of Rainbow. The Alaska Railroad is primarily single track with numerous passing sidings of various lengths. Some sidings are quite short and used mostly for passenger meets.
Soutbound coal near Indian Siding
The highway and railroad parallel each other closely between Rabbit Creek and Portage, allowing access to many locations along the railroad. A southbound coal train is near the siding of Indian as it rolls along the water; the highway can be barely seen in the background.
Windy at Windy
A few minutes earlier that same southbound coal train was passing Windy Point in a shot from the shoulder of the road. In his feature on the south end of the Alaska Railroad in the August 2013 issue of Railfan & Railroad, author Frank Keller said if you can find a place to park you'll probably find a good shot. That is certainly true of this spectacular stretch of the Alaska Railroad.