Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Glories of the Alaska Railroad

The extravagantly photogenic Alaska Railroad is heaven for the amateur photographer who is also a train buff, and the following shots, captured on our recent Holland-America Line cruise tour, will help explain why. They were taken on two of the landlocked railroad's best trains, the Denali Star from Fairbanks 344 miles south to Anchorage, and the Cruise Train 114 miles east and south from Ted Stevens Airport in Anchorage to Seward.

Alaska Railroad powers its passenger trains with 4,000-horsepower SD70MACs built in the mid-1990s, keeping the paint on all its equipment fresh and shiny. On June 19, 2010, Nos. 4319 and 4328 hauled the railroad's flagship Denali Star from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Here it pulls into the Denali National Park station.

Aboard the Denali Star, "Gold Star" first-class passengers ride in luxury bilevel dome coaches that feature upper-level open-air observation platforms (look to the rear of the car). A dining room and galley is on the first level.

The Gold Star coach's observation platform. As many as ten photographers can squeeze along the rail of one side. Hang on to your hat, though; it gets windy at speed up there.

Private double-deck dome coaches even more luxurious than the Denali Star's are towed behind the Alaska Railroad cars. Holland-America's McKinley Explorers are reputedly the largest and heaviest passenger carriages ever built.

The McKinley Explorer cars' open-air photo platforms are on the first level and also serve as an entry vestibule to board and detrain passengers.

Interior of a McKinley Explorer's upper-level dome. For seated passengers, the sight lines from this car are unbeatable. A steward serves drinks above and full meals are "available for purchase" (in the cruise line's coy term) in the dining room below.

The front of the Denali Star climbing into the mountains.

Looking to the rear from our McKinley Explorer coach. There were five of them on the June 19 southbound, plus a smaller Princess Cruises carriage on the rear.

The Star parallels the gorge of the Nenana River for much of the trip.

Several times we spotted rafters on the river, milky from glacial silt.

The Alaska Range in the distance counterpoints the thick boreal forest and winding Susitna River.

Inside the single-level Gold Star coach of the Cruise Train before it departed Ted Stevens Airport at Anchorage for Seward on June 20.

From Anchorage the Cruise Train follows Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet for many picturesque miles.

Our coach was the first behind the engine, also a SD70MAC.

Glaciers abounded on the line.

As the train rolled farther into the Chugash Mountains, snowfields appeared. That's a view to the rear of the train; the Cruise Train has locomotives on both ends because it cannot be turned at either Seward or Ted Stevens Airport.

The passing train spooked this trio of black bear cubs. We didn't spot the mother.

At Seward the Cruise Train rolled right up to the quay, where Holland-America's MS Statendam awaited.

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