Earlier this month, the Alaska Railroad turned 100 with a ceremony marking the day – July 15, 1923 – when President Warren G. Harding stood on the banks of the Tanana River in Nenana to personally drive home the golden spike to complete the 470-mail main line from Seward to Fairbanks.
A large crowd gathered last week to mark the momentous anniversary with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Sen. Dan Sullivan and leaders from the Alaska Railroad Corporation on hand.
Over the past century the railroad has served to unite rural communities and boost economic development across Alaska through the steady transportation of people and myriad supplies.
The railroad has facilitated the development of Alaska’s major cities while opening up the Interior.
In 1966, the railroad completed its transition to locomotive power with the selling off of its last steam engine. In the 1970s it supported the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, hauling pipe from Valdez to Seward to Fairbanks, where it was then trucked to the North Slope.
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In 1983, President Ronald Regan approved the transfer of the Alaska Railroad to the State of Alaska. By 1984, passenger services were initiated with superdome double-decker luxury coaches. Later that year, Gov. Bill Sheffield signed legislation establishing the quasi-public Alaska Railroad Corporation and its seven-member board of directors.
In 1988, a new depot was constructed in Denali Park, becoming the ultimate destination for thousands of summer visitors.
Today, the railroad employs more than 700 people, and remains a staple for development and tourism across the state.