Railroad considers adding passenger cars

Posted: Wednesday, August 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Ridership on the Alaska Railroad is up slightly from last summer, prompting corporation officials to consider adding more passenger cars to its fleet.

Spokesman Patrick Flynn said about 170,000 people had ridden the rails through June, about 2,500 more riders than a year ago for the same period. Most of the increased traffic comes from the Grandview train that transports cruise ship passengers from Seward to Anchorage and back. The Grandview service began in 2000 following the $3.6 million purchase of nine passenger cars from Florida.

Nearly every seat on the Seward-to-Anchorage leg was full last summer. This season, the southbound train has been filled up on several trips, which has caused passengers to be turned away, Flynn said.

''We want to capture some of that capacity,'' Flynn told the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

The railroad is looking at three used single-level dome cars from British Columbia Railway Co., Flynn said.

The passenger cars, which hold 76 people each, are similar to some the Alaska Railroad owns already, and would cost about $800,000 each, about half the price of new models, Flynn said. If the railroad board approves the purchase this year, the cars could be in service by next summer, Flynn said.

''All they would need is a coat of paint and the tender, loving care of our car men,'' Flynn said.

Holland America Line Westours is selling two of its double-decker dome cars that have been in service on the Alaska Railroad since 1996. Flynn said the cars will be replaced with four, larger double-decker cars next summer.

Holland America's double-decker cars are being offered for $375,000.

Flynn said Alaska Railroad is not interested in the cars because they are not ''consistent'' with passenger cars the railroad owns.

Passenger revenues for the railroad last year were $14.2 million. Railroad officials are projecting an increase to $14.9 million for 2002.

Passenger numbers are projected to be about 500,000 this year, up slightly over the past two years, Flynn said. Passenger numbers in 1999 were 679,000.

The reduction in ridership, according to railroad officials, is blamed on the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which opened Whittier to road traffic in June 2000.

The state-owned railroad has taken steps since then to move more passengers along its 611 miles of rail, including streamlining marketing operations and adding more locomotives.

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