FAIRBANKS (AP) The Alaska Railroad aims to take the ''coach'' out of passenger coaches.
Beginning with two new double-decker passenger cars, the company expects to add a costlier, first-class option for ticket buyers by the 2005 tourist season.
Railroad officials say the new cars will help update the fleet and increase passenger capacity. The railroad has not decided on a manufacturer, although Colorado Railcar of Fort Lupton, Colo., is a likely choice.
The new cars will carry about 70 passengers in a domed upper level, while a large galley, or kitchen, will fill the lower section.
Premium seating has been a common request, Alaska Railroad spokesperson Pat Flynn told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
''A lot of people call and say, 'Is there an upgraded service available?''' Flynn said.
The railroad has not decided yet how much a first-class ticket will cost or what services will go along with it. Offering first-class seating has worked well for a Canadian company.
British Columbia-based Great Canadian Railtour Co. operates Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, which ferries passengers between Vancouver, B.C., and Jasper, Banff and Calgary, Alberta.
In 1995, that company began offering a more expensive, first-class service in two-story coaches.
Graham Gilley, Rocky Moun-taineer Railtours vice president of marketing, said the first-class seating was a hit with customers, and by February the company will have a fleet of 12 premium cars.
The Canadian company's upgraded service costs twice as much as a regular ticket, but now accounts for 50 percent of sales, Gilley said.
The feature generated just 5 percent of sales when it was introduced less than 10 years ago.
The Alaska Railroad is owned by the state of Alaska but not paid for through the state's general fund. Passenger services account for about 15 percent of its revenue.
The company has 21 passenger-seating coaches and carried 113,284 passengers during the 2003 summer season.
Some of the coaches are more than 50 years old, and, at times during the summer, every piece of passenger equipment is in use, Flynn said.
''This will add some flexibility for when trains sell out. We can add more coaches,'' Flynn said.
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