Alaska Trends


wo railroads currently operate in this state: the Alaska Railroad, covered in this month’s “100 Years of Passengers, Freight, and Real Estate,” and the White Pass & Yukon Route. But let’s pause to remember a third railroad that shaped Alaska’s history.

In 1906, J.P. Morgan and Simon Guggenheim formed the Alaska Syndicate that purchased the Kennecott Copper Corporation and built the Copper River and Northwestern Railway to transport ore to Cordova. The tracks crossed the Miles Glacier Bridge, also called the Million Dollar Bridge, over the Copper River. It was completed in 1911 and operated until 1938.

The syndicate’s control of the corridor to the Interior prompted the federal government, in its efforts to develop the territory, to choose an alternate route. Thus, the Alaska Central Railway, built out of Seward in 1903 (later extended to Turnagain Arm as the Alaska Northern Railroad), became the roots of a new railway to connect with the Tanana Valley Railroad yard in Fairbanks.

In one view, the Alaska Railroad has always been a government venture meant to outcompete private enterprise. In another view, the public utility opened opportunities for entrepreneurs that the Morganheim syndicate thwarted. This view, championed by the territory’s delegate to Congress, James Wickersham, prevailed.

The Alaska Railroad survives as one of about two-dozen Class II regional railroads in the United States, while the White Pass & Yukon Route is considered a Class III narrow-gauge short line. Both are isolated from other rail systems. The Alaska-Alberta Railway Development Corporation formed in recent years to build a 1,600-mile connection from Delta Junction to a railhead at Fort McMurray, but work was suspended in 2021 amid financial shenanigans.

This edition of Alaska Trends visualizes the state-owned railroad’s bottom-line data summarized elsewhere in this issue. As it shows, the trend is up.

Sources: ARRC Annual Report 2022, ARRC Freight Fact Sheet 2022
5 Year Net Income
Bar graph showing 5 year net income
Vector image of train and bar graph
Growth in revenue from ARRC’s three main business lines (freight, passenger, real estate) helped push overall 2022 revenues to an all-time high of
Vector image of train and bar graph
64% Increase in Gravel
In 2022, construction along the Railbelt drove a 64% increase in gravel volume over 2021, although gravel tonnage was still 15% shy of 2019 volumes.
Freight by Type
Block chart showing percentages of freight by type
3x the Coal
1 hopper railcar hauls 3x more cubic yards compared to a 40-foot side-dump truck.
2.5x the Petroleum
1 rail tanker car holds 2.5x that of a tank truck.
4x the Gravel
1 railcar has 4x the load capacity of a 40-foot side-dump truck.
Vector image of railcar and dump truck comparing load sizes
3.7M Tons of Cargo
were hauled in 2022, growing by 48% from 2021 and 6% from 2019.
38% More Railcars
flowed through the Whittier dock in 2022, primarily due to North Slope oil field activity.
$110M in Freight
revenues broke freight revenue records in 2022.
Freight Hauled Over Time
Bar graph showing amount of freight hauled per year
Vector image of people sitting
131% Growth in Ridership
AKRR transported 461,949 passengers in 2022, compared to 200,381 passengers in 2021.
Ridership Over Time
Bar graph showing number of riders per year