Sunday, March 30, 2014

Today's Train Of Thought- Hitting Below the Railbelt, March 30, 2014

Aside from the colloquialism "the wrong side of the tracks", railroads usually don't quite factor into geographic descriptions of a certain area despite many examples of railroads conquering towering mountains, raging rivers and remote wilderness. The Alaska Railroad, which has had to deal with all three plus notoriously brutal winters in it's 100 year history, is proving to be the exception.

While entire European countries can fit into the vast and uninhabited tracts of Alaskan wilderness, the two larger cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks- along with the communities in between are referred to as part of Alaska's Railbelt. The moniker 'railbelt' basically means that the community is accessible by the Alaska Railroad and two of the state's main highways, although even in the more densely populated part of Alaska, this doesn't mean there's a lot of people nearby. Case in point, around Denali National Park, there's nearly 60 miles of track through wilderness that is inaccessible by highway, making the Alaska Railroad one of the last rail lines in North America to operate 'flag stop' passenger service where passengers can flag down a passing train to get on board.

Here, contributor Chad Paulhamus caught Alaska Railroad GP40-2 #3004 heading southbound through Chugiak, AK with a combined work train and mixed freight on March 10, 2012. The 1975-built GP40-2 was purchased new by the Alaska Railroad in the mid-1970s and sent to Illinois in 2008 to be overhauled by National Railway Equipment and given a new paint job. The #3004 is one of fifteen GP40-2s bought new by Alaska and can be seen assigned to anything from yard switcher to the ARR's top of the line Denali Star summertime passenger train.

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