“A Splendid Railroad”

Written by: Gary Dolzall

The incomparable and majestic Alaska Railroad is coming soon to Train Simulator!

Across the entire globe, there are precious few demonstrations of railroading more majestic, more challenging, and more memorable than the remarkable Alaska Railroad – and soon, the southern portion of this incomparable rail line will be coming to Train Simulator with the Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route!

Created through the Dovetail Games Partner Programme by Train & Drivers with masterful contributions by Jonathan Lewis (of Milepost Simulations) and Michael Stephan (of the VNHRR team), the upcoming Train Simulator Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route will include the Alaska Railroad’s artery from Anchorage via Portage to Seward (114 route miles) as well as the important ARR line from Portage (Whittier Junction) to Whittier, Alaska (12 route miles). As an engineer of the upcoming route, you’ll have the opportunity to take the throttle of ARR’s powerful Electro-Motive SD70MACs and versatile EMD GP38-2s, working duties ranging from lugging massive unit coal trains and manifests over the Kenai Mountains to extensive switching activities at Anchorage and the busy deep-water ports of Seward and Whittier.

Over the coming weeks here at Train-Simulator.com, we’ll be taking a close look at the Alaska Railroad and the upcoming Train Simulator Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route, with coverage of the line’s history, features, operations, and equipment. Let’s begin by recalling the history of this extraordinary enterprise that came to be known as “Uncle Sam’s Railroad.”

The motto of the state of Alaska today reads “North to the Future,” and surely similar aspirations were in the minds of the group of entrepreneurs more than a century ago who, in 1902, formed the Alaska Central Railway with the goal of building a standard-gauge line from Seward, on the waters of Resurrection Bay, into the vast and untapped Alaska interior. Facing the mountainous rigors of the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Central began construction in 1903 and built 51 miles of railroad, but before the decade was out, the company succumbed to bankruptcy. Re-organized as the Alaska Northern Railway, the rail line was soon extended to Kern Creek, 71 miles from Seward and on the shores of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. Then the United States government – “Uncle Sam” – came calling.

In 1912, Alaska was a U. S. territory (it would gain statehood in 1959), but the U. S. was already growingly aware of the vast potential of what had once been called “Seward’s Folly”. U. S. President William Howard Taft that year initiated a study for the federal constructed of a rail line into the Alaska interior, and his successor, Woodrow Wilson, then concluded that the U. S. government should not only build but operate the railroad. In 1914, the U. S. Congress authorized $35 million for the railroad’s creation and among the first steps by the government was the 1915 purchase of the Alaska Northern route (as well as that of a narrow-gauge short line, the Tanana Railway, that had been completed in 1904 running from Fairbanks, Alaska).

With the nearly unbridled resources of the United States, the Alaska Railroad took form, stretching from Seward (upon a heavily rebuilt Alaska Northern right-of-way) to the newly born railroad construction town of Anchorage, then onward to Fairbanks on the Chena River. It is a measure of the magnitude and grandeur of the Alaska Railroad’s construction that much of the equipment – including steam shovels, locomotives, and dump cars – that had been involved in the then-just-completed construction of the Panama Canal were forwarded to Alaska for the work at hand! By the time the Alaska Railroad, stretching 550 miles in length and with a total cost of $56 million, was ceremoniously opened, it was June 1923 and the U. S. Presidency was occupied by Warren G. Harding, who in proclaimed, “[The builders] have given us a splendid railroad, and as they have built it miraculously. It is our determination to … operate it wisely.”

For its first decade and more, operating the Alaska Railroad “wisely” proved difficult primarily because it suffered from a dearth of traffic (as late as 1930, the combined populations of Seward, Anchorage and Fairbanks totaled only 4,500 people!) and the railroad’s operating ratio (cost-to-revenue) sometimes exceed 200 percent. In 1938, though, the railroad turned its first annual profit — and then soon came World War II. With Alaska’s geographic position high atop the North Pacific, the territory took on enormous strategic importance for the U. S. military, and Alaska – and its railroad — suddenly bustled with activity. To sustain the railroad during the war, the U. S. Army’s 714th Railway Operating Battalion, including some 1,100 men and a roster of War Department design, Baldwin-built 2-8-0s arrived, and the WWII years also marked the arrival of the railroad’s first diesels, a group of Alco road-switchers.

Indeed, WWII would forever leave an important mark on the Alaska Railroad with the construction of a 12-mile branch from the main line at Portage to the deep-water port of Whittier on the Passage Canal. The Whittier line was constructed in 1943-44 as a military imperative, providing the ARR a second deep-water port that was ice free in winter (in addition to Seward) and one that was better protected than Seward during the war in the Pacific from the risks of Japanese submarine attacks. During the WWII, Whittier would serve as a major U. S. military and fuel depot. Creation of the line to Whittier required two great tunnels, 4,910-foot-long Portage Tunnel and 13,090-foot-long Whittier Tunnel, be drilled through the southern spine of the Chugach Mountains.

As the anticipation builds for the release of the Train Simulator Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route, we’ll continue to explore the history of the ARR in an upcoming article, then explore the route’s many fascinating features and operations! – Gary Dolzall

The splendor and unrelenting challenges of railroading in Alaska is coming soon to Train Simulator with the Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route! On the treacherous climb toward Grandview, a southbound Alaska Railroad coal train grinds through the “Loops District” with Bartlett Glacier filling the mountain valley beyond. Screenshots by Gary Dolzall.

The upcoming Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route will include the entire ARR south of Anchorage to the port towns of Seward and Whittier, a total of 126 route miles! Anchorage was born as a railroad town and today is the headquarters of the railroad. At the ARR’s big Anchorage shops, Electro-Motive GP38-2 and SD70MAC diesels congregate (above), while nearby a Geep handles industrial switching duty (below). Note: Screenshots depict content still in development.

Rolling south along the shores of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, a pair of Alaska Railroad SD70MACs are about to exit the railroad’s “RAIN” block some 12 miles south of Anchorage (above). Much of the ARR is not signaled and operates via Direct Traffic Control (DTC), a topic we’ll explore in a future article here at Train-Simulator.com. Nearing Portage, Alaska with a container consist, the duo of burly, 4,000-horsepower EMDs cross Twentymile River (below).

At 1,062-feet above sea level, Grandview is the highest point on the south end of the Alaska Railroad and whether trains are north- or southbound, attaining Grandview requires hard climbs (more than 2 percent on the south slope; up to 3 percent on the north slope). With containers headed north, ARR GP38-2 2002 leads an SD70MAC onto the summit flat at Grandview.

Nestled deep amid the majestic Kenai Peninsula, an Alaska Railroad manifest is Seward-bound and makes a grand sight as its rolls along the shore of Kenai Lake (above and below). The origins of the Alaska Railroad dated to the Alaska Central Railway of 1903, but it was through the efforts and investments of the U. S. Government that the railroad – accordingly nicknamed “Uncle Sam’s Railroad” – was completed in 1923.

On the upcoming Train Simulator Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route, ARR SD70MAC 4010 has just glided over the South Fork of the Snow River (above) bound for Seward. Along with the climb to Grandview, the line to Seward includes a second tough climb to reach Divide, Alaska, elevation 694 feet. At remote Divide, northbound SD70MAC 4001 emerges from a rough-hewn rock-faced tunnel into bright winter sunlight (below).

At the south end of the Alaska Railroad stands Resurrection Bay and the city of Seward, Alaska, which hosts shipping in its deep-water port, a coal-transloading facility, and lineside industries. Working local duties in Seward, a duo of ARR EMD GP38-2s rumble past some aged Alaska Railroad boxcars that have been converted to storage sheds.

To open a second ice-free deep-water port on the Alaska Railroad during World War II, the U. S. military constructed the 12-mile Portage (Whittier Junction)-Whittier line, and it has since become a primary facility on the railroad, hosting barges that connect ARR’s rail services to Seattle and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. At Whittier on the shore of the Passage Canal, an ARR switching crew is working a barge laden with rail cars and containers (above and below).

Although short in length, the 12-mile line from Portage to Whittier demanded heavy construction work, including two tunnels totaling 18,000-feet in length. With Portage Lake in the distance, an Alaska Railroad train bound from Whittier to Anchorage clears 4,910-foot Portage Tunnel. The unmatched operating challenges and majestic beauty of Alaskan railroading will be coming soon to Train Simulator with the Alaska Railroad – Seward to Anchorage route!

We’re always happy to receive your comments below but please ensure they are related to the subject of the article, we’ll remove any that appear to be unrelated.

Gary Dolzall


  • This looks great and I will certainly buy a copy. The screengrab above shows the “Loop District”, named for the loops on the old route. Could you put the Loops back in? They were beautiful and would be fun to run on them, if only virtually.

    • We can relay this to Trains & Drivers, the developer of this route but it’s entirely their call Stever 🙂

  • I know the route is coming soon, but will it be released to Steam?

    • It sure will Daniel 🙂

      • Sweet! I can’t wait! Just wanted to know so I wouldn’t blow out my money on other items before this gets released.

  • Some superb scenery, but can anything be done about the very bland and uniform yard texturing? Maybe add some weeds or texture variation.

  • OH. MY. GOSH!!!! This is amazing, somebody pinch me I must be dreaming!! 😀

    • Will passenger operations be included too, or is it just freight operations?

      • I have no details on that LatviaBoy1999, I’m sure we’ll find out more as we move toward relesae

  • I hope it’s gonna be good! Nice looking route so far from the pictures.

  • Fun fact! If I’m not mistaking, I believe this is where the movie “Runaway Train” was filmed. Portage Tunnel played a significant role in the movie!

  • 1. Something long after a series of max-50-km routes.
    2. I hope this one will be entertaining, I’m not ready for another Bored Pass.

  • Can’t wait for the release! Possibly my favorite American railroad. By the looks of the thumbnail Train & Drivers did a good job on this one. It would also be cool to see a Hawaiian route, but there isn’t one.

  • This is fantastic! Hope we get some of the ARR’s signature passenger equipment. Also all we need is the White Pass and Yukon and we’ll be good for Alaska.

  • Will the Anton Anderson tunnel be featured on this route?

    • I believe so Major Dunbar

  • Any passenger ops

    • I have no details on that Coasterfan3001

  • Fantastic, Consider me “on board” 😛

  • Looks good, I might get this one. I have a question, will any cruise ships models be included? There are parts along the railroad that pass areas where cruise ships sail. If there are cruise ships, I will highly consider purchasing this route.

    • I believe so BVERailer

  • This route looks absolutely stunning! What a great team of DEV’s to collaborate on a project! I will 100% be buying it, for sure!

    Just one question for you though, Steve. To your knowledge, does the SD70MAC come with updated light/rain effects? As I remember the old SD70 didn’t have either. Thanks!

    • I don’t have any details on that Dash, I’ll see what I can find out


    I certainly hope the passenger cars are included with the route! It won’t be complete without them!

  • Holy cow, am I so hyped!

  • Cannot wait to get this 🙂 It also gives an opportunity to run the ARR S160 livery on this finally 😉

  • A perfect place for those Alaska S160s now. Will the route come with passenger equipment? I know that is a big part of the route?

    • I have no details on that GWR5029 but I will endeavour to see what I can find out! 🙂

    • If it doesn’t come with the route at launch, expect it to be DLC…

  • This is going to be one of the best American routes in train simulator! Trains & Drivers have done a great job creating this route. Would it be possible to show some images of the cabs in the next article and also will there be a passenger view in the caboose?

    • I have no details on the passenger view northrail1, and we’ll discuss the images of the cab with Gary.

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