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Depending on where you live, getting to Alaska can take a while. In my case, it meant waking in time to catch a 4 a.m. airport shuttle from Milwaukee to Chicago, a six-hour non-stop flight to Anchorage, and another hour in a regional jet to reach Fairbanks. It was a long day. I think that’s why, when I arrived in Alaska, I briefly wondered if American money was accepted. I was either jet-lagged or losing my marbles.
Fairbanks is in the middle of Alaska. It is the state’s second-largest city, but that doesn’t make it especially big. About 33,000 people call it home. Tour participants were met at baggage claim by our two coordinators from Special Interest Tours. They planned everything and did a fantastic job of keeping the tour moving smoothly.
I had a couple of hours to relax in my hotel room (A Marriott, across the street from the Dog Mushing Hall of Fame, and, no, I am not making that up). Then it was time to head downstairs and board the chartered bus that would accompany our tour and take care of non-rail transportation needs. With the short drive to our welcome dinner, our nine-day Trains Magazine Alaska tour was officially underway.
In the coming days, we covered the Alaska Railroad main line from the northern end of track in Fairbanks to the southern end of the line at Resurrection Bay in Seward. Along the way, we made a few detours to experience more of the 49th State. The ARR is unusual. It’s a state-owned Class II operating both passenger and freight trains. Our 2023 tour marked the 100th anniversary of the ARR’s completion.