June 01, 2016

Train to Denali

My cab pulls up to the lobby door just before 5:45. I arrive at the station, check my luggage and get my boarding pass. No dogs sniffing my luggage, no scanners invading my body, just show some sort of ID and I'm on my way. My bags are checked right to my hotel in Denali.

My gamble that the Tanana Valley Model Railroad club layout will be open pays off. Two of the club's 10 members are present. Their agreement with Alaska Railroad for free use of the space is that they have to be open to the public for an hour before each regular passenger train departs during the summer months, this is seven trains a week. The railroad also operates several private trains for the cruise lines, but the waiting passengers only get to see the model if by chance a member is there.

No surprise, they model a portion of the Alaska Railroad. The layout is DC in HO scale. Much of the scenery is scratch built, and the rolling stock is all modern Alaska Railroad.

I have chosen to splurge and purchase the Gold Star Service. Seating is in relatively new double deck dome cars built specifically for the Alaska Railroad. All seating is on the upper level with complementary bar service at one end of the car as well as an outdoor platform which is ideal for picture taking. With Gold Star Service meal service is included in the dining area on the lower level.

The train is staffed by mostly young men and women, many just out of high school or attending college. The conductor is the only staff person over 30. Gold Star Service can carry 76 passengers in each car. From Fairbanks to Denali there are just 17 of us in one car and zero in the other.

This really is a tourist train more than passenger service. We seldom exceed 35 mph even though the track limit is 70 most of the time. When moose or bear are sighted, the train will often slow to a crawl. Despite this appearing to be a haphazard way to run a railroad, we arrive precisely on schedule. The scenery is spectacular as we make our way towards Denali, bordering rivers, cutting thru mountain passes and rolling across the permafrost tundra. I will post pictures soon after my return to Florida.

I board the shuttle to the hotel and the checking in process is completed during the 10 minute drive. We are also informed that the lobby, bar, restaurant, and tour desk are closed due to a fire in the lobby of the main lodge building four days ago. A temporary office is set up on portable tables and bankers boxes in the hallway. There is quite a bit of confusion as the hotel just opened for the season a few weeks ago and most of the staff are temporary hires for the summer. We manage without much inconvenience. Without food available I take the free shuttle into town and grab a hot dog at "The Denali Dog House". Probably the most expensive hot dog I have ever purchased.

I also learn that my tour into Denali National Park has been rescheduled from 5:00 to 9:20. I crash for the night and set my alarm even though I have usually been awake by 3:30 or 4:00. My body just doesn't adapt to time zone changes quickly.

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