Alaska Railroad Centennial – Alaska Business Magazine

When it comes to revenue, the railroad’s source of revenue is its freight service. In 2022, the railroad earned $110 million, or 44 percent of its annual revenue, hauling 3.7 million tons of freight. Cargo service is provided from rail ports in Whittier, Seward, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Alaska Railroad (AKRR) operating budget analyst Scott Winther explains, “It’s groceries and dry goods, supplies for Home Depot and Lowe’s, that kind of cargo, as well as other project cargo,” which can include items like lumber, heavy machinery and rebar

Alaska Railroad also transports materials directly from the Lower 48 through the Alaska Rail-Marine Service. Working in partnership with Lynden Alaska Marine Lines, materials purchased from the Lower 48 are delivered to the railroad dock in Seattle and loaded onto the barge via the Lynden Railroad Barge. The patented system allows the cars to roll between the train and the barge, improving efficiency and increasing the amount of cargo that can be shipped.

“The barge can hold fifty rail cars on a good day,” says O’Leary. “It’s a tremendously efficient and cost-effective way to transport heavy bulk cargo.”

Materials for the mining industry and chemicals for oilfields are the main products shipped by barge, Winther says. Kubitz adds: “We transport a lot of cement powder. People just don’t realize how many ordinary things the railway carries.”

The rail freight service also allows you to deliver items that would be impossible to move by any other means of transportation.

“If it weren’t for the railroad, there wouldn’t be a windmill farm in Healy,” says Kubitz. “The arms of the wind turbines were transported in special rail cars that were long and arched in the middle.”

There are also side benefits to the rail freight business. A train can carry the equivalent of hundreds of trucks. Winther says towing companies typically move 150 to 200 trailers a week between Anchorage and Fairbanks and another 50 a week out of Whittier. Minimizing the number of trucks on the road reduces wear and tear on Alaska’s roads, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminates the challenges of winter freight transportation.

Combined with passenger services, which reduce the number of coaches that transport tourists across the state each summer, rail service means fewer headaches for motorists traveling by car.

“Anyone who’s ever been stuck behind a convoy of buses heading to Seward or Denali knows that the train is a tremendously efficient way to transport passengers,” says O’Leary. “It’s a tremendously efficient and cost-effective way to transport heavy bulk cargo.”