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Roadtrippin’: Taking the Alaska Railroad from the city to the sea

The Frey family takes a day trip adventure to Seward
Updated: Jun. 6, 2021 at 5:46 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Riding the rails on the Alaska Railroad is a bucket list item for many Alaskans along with people all over the world. As part of our Roadtrippin’ series, Melissa Frey and her family did a day trippin’ adventure down the tracks to Seward.

It all started as a cloudy, wet and early morning in downtown Anchorage. The city was still asleep, but it was already light out, and the iconic blue and gold rail cars stood to take passengers the 114.3 miles to Seward. Inside the depot, anticipation was building as hundreds of people lined up to board the first Coastal Classic trip of the season.

With tickets in hand and an “all aboard!” from the conductor, our bucket list dream became reality.

Leaving the city behind, into Turnagain Arm we went, as Alaska Railroad Conductor Warren Redfearn walked the isles of the train to meet his guests. Finding out where everyone is from, he welcomes them to Alaska, punching their tickets one by one.

Roadtrippin': Riding the Alaska Railroad to the Alaska SeaLife Center
Roadtrippin': Riding the Alaska Railroad to the Alaska SeaLife Center(Melissa Frey)

This year already looks different than 2020.

“Oh, it’s so good! Today they actually let me call all aboard. Last year I couldn’t even call all aboard because we only loaded a few people at a time,” said Redfearn. “I only averaged like 65 people on this train last year, down from like four or five hundred in years past. Today we have 288 people on board right now. So that’s a good thing.”

Redfearn has worked for the railroad for nearly 47 years and he says this is his favorite trip.

Kari and Krista Meyer, twins from Minnesota have been waiting for this day for a while.

“I’ve been trying to get to Alaska for four years now. But everything keeps changing each year and I finally went, ‘we’re doing it this year, I don’t care,’” said Kari Meyer.

Mona Reddy and her family from Mississippi couldn’t miss the chance to ride the rails.

“When you’re doing research, one of the first things that everyone talks about is this railroad, and I said we just have to go,” said Reddy. It’s a relaxing pace but with a feeling of adventure at the same time. We enjoyed sitting back in the comfortable chairs inside the railcar, with a glass top dome to see all the views, while also taking time to go out on the back deck, to take in the fresh air and feel the wind in our hair.

And even for Alaskans, it’s a different view than a typical trip to Seward. Just east of Portage, the tracks leave the road system behind. The Seward Highway continues south, while the tracks head east.

Along the way, we see mountain goats, eagles, moose and a black bear. We also pass by several glaciers, including a great view of Spencer Glacier. Once up into the mountains, we took a flashback to winter with deep snow on the ground, but waterfalls on top of waterfalls higher up.

Roadtrippin': Riding the Alaska Railroad to the Alaska SeaLife Center
Roadtrippin': Riding the Alaska Railroad to the Alaska SeaLife Center(Melissa Frey)

The kids especially loved the tunnels, as we went in and out of darkness for short periods of time as they chanted, “chuga chuga, chuga chuga, choo choo!”

The views coming out of the tunnels were jaw-dropping, as we maneuvered along deep river canyons with glacier blue water below, and more waterfalls higher up.

Roadtrippin': Riding the Alaska Railroad to the Alaska SeaLife Center
Roadtrippin': Riding the Alaska Railroad to the Alaska SeaLife Center(Melissa Frey)

Out of the mountains we traveled along a beautiful glassy lake before rejoining the highway near Moose Pass. Cars stopped on the highway greeted us, waving hello to the train as we passed by.

There’s never a dull moment on this trip from the city to the sea, and the day is only getting started. From here we headed to downtown Seward for a fun-packed afternoon before returning to the train for dinner, and the trip home.

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