Traveling by Train: 5 Alaskan Towns to Visit by the Alaska Railroad

Princess Cruises' rail service gives tourists a look at Alaska's railroad history while passing through historical railroad towns such as Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Princess Cruises' rail service gives tourists a look at Alaska's railroad history while passing through historical railroad towns such as Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The 470-mile-long Alaska Railroad, which reaches from Seward to Fairbanks, helped the state meet its need to transport gold, coal, and other important natural resources from its inland toward the coast. The railroad's construction enabled several Alaskan communities — among them Seward, Anchorage, Nenana, Fairbanks, and Whittier — to exist, and in some cases thrive; without it, these towns might not even exist. On an Alaska cruise, take a ride on the Alaska Railroad and see some of these historic towns firsthand.

Seward

Seward, one of Alaska's oldest port towns, was discovered by Russian explorers. Its mostly ice-free harbor allowed for easy travel into and out of the area, making Seward an excellent location for the start of the railroad.

Named after former Secretary of State William Henry Seward, who was instrumental in purchasing Alaska from the Russians in 1867, Seward was popular with gold prospectors who believed they could find wealth on a road — later named the Iditarod Trail — that began in the town. Many of those prospectors did find luck in such places as Hope and Sunrise.

In 1903, Alaska Central Railway started constructing the 50-mile rail line that ran north from Seward and would become the Alaska Railroad.

Anchorage

Anchorage was established in the early 1900s as a construction port for the Alaska Railroad. Through the 1920s Anchorage's economy was dominated by the railroad, and then boomed through the 1930s and '40s as a result of the increased significance of the military and air transportation.

Today, the Alaska Railroad still transports goods, raw materials, and tourists through Anchorage. On Alaska cruises, you can experience Anchorage in a number of ways — including by air on a scenic tram ride, and by land on a self-guided journey through downtown Anchorage.
 

Fairbanks

Fairbanks' rail history predates the creation of the Alaska Railroad. The Tanana Valley Railroad, which was a 45-mile track that led to Fairbanks from Chatanika, primarily serviced the area surrounding Chatanika's mining area. The Alaska Railroad purchased this railroad line in 1917 in order to use the terminal facilities in Fairbanks. Construction of the Alaska Railroad continued, with the railroad being built from Fairbanks toward Healy and north from Anchorage, until the two sides met at McKinley Station.

On an excursion, you can tour Fairbanks and catch all the highlights of this fascinating historic spot.

Nenana

In 1923, then-President Warren G. Harding traveled to Alaska in a ceremony marking the completion of the Alaska Railroad in Nenana, which was one of biggest cities in Alaska at that time with approximately 5,000 residents in the area. It was the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome that really put Nenana on the map as the serum was sent by train from Anchorage to Nenana and then taken by dogsled to Nome. After the completion of the railroad, Nenana's economy took a hit, with only 291 residents recorded in 1930.

Whittier

In 1943, two tunnels were drilled through the Chugach Mountains to Whittier, allowing rail access to this military port and fuel depot. This was a very important strategic military move that supported World War II efforts. On your cruise to Alaska, you can take a luxury train ride from Whittier to the interior wilderness of Denali National Park with Princess Cruises' Alaska Rail Service.

Get excited for an Alaska cruise by checking out all the sights you can embark on.