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Rail History with Gray Line Alaska

The Alaska Railroad’s roots run deep in Alaska’s history, playing a vital role in the transport of goods across the Last Frontier and providing residents and visitors a relaxing, no-hassle option to explore Southcentral and Interior Alaska. Gray Line Alaska and the Alaska Railroad partnered more than 20 years ago to offer customers exciting rail tour packages that combine transportation with lodging and activities. From Seward to Fairbanks and other thrilling destinations in between, Gray Line Alaska and the Alaska Railroad continue to deliver visitors luxury rail travel throughout the 49th state.

The early years

In 1903, the Alaska Central Railway built the state’s first railroad in Seward, which extended just 50 miles north of town. Sadly, the company went bankrupt in 1907, and three years later reorganized as the Alaska Northern Railway Company (ANR), extending the tracks 71 miles north of Seward to Kern Creek. Thanks to funding from the U.S. Congress in 1914, the railway was able to extend the tracks even further all the way to Fairbanks. The following year, ANR moved its headquarters from Seward to Anchorage to service the booming railroad industry. Two years later, construction of the railroad kicked into full gear with crews of up to 4,500 workers stationed up and down the railbelt. By 1923, the company’s name was changed again and remains to this day under the title of the Alaska Railroad. That same year, President Warren G. Harding traveled to Nenana, one of Alaska’s largest cities at the time, to drive in the golden spike marking the completion of the railroad.

Throughout the 1930’s, difficult times fell on the Alaska Railroad as it struggled to be profitable. By 1940, with the onset of World War II and under new management, the railroad gained its footing, becoming a profitable corporation and growing extensively to transport military machinery, goods and services.

Passenger services

After World War II, the railroad was used primarily for freight, but in 1971, the Alaska Railroad acquired passenger services cars and refurbished them to bolster passenger travel along the railbelt. These luxurious, glass-dome cars have been updated throughout the years and remain a key part of the railroad’s inventory. Today, passengers on Gray Line Alaska rail tours can enjoy beautiful views from these historic rail coaches.

In the mid-1980s, the Alaska Railroad developed its passenger services division with the travel industry in mind and signed contracts with Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and other cruise companies, agreeing to pull luxury, double-deck rail cars belonging to the cruise operators, and promoting them on the cars’ exteriors. Gray Line Alaska offers many rail tour packages from Anchorage, Fairbanks and Seward, all major railbelt hubs on the Alaska Railroad line.

We encourage you to explore our unique state through one of our many rail tour packages. For more information about booking your next Alaska Railroad adventure with Gray Line, visit or call 1-888-425-1737.

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