While the Alaska Railroad is currently the state's chief provider of passenger and freight rail services it did not start out that way. The first railroad opened in Alaska was the White Pass & Yukon Railway (WP&YR), a three foot, narrow-gauge system tucked away in the southeastern corner of the state. Running northward from the coastal town of Skagway, the WP&YR was built to offer more efficient transportation during the Klondike Gold Rush after gold was discovered at Bonanza Creek in August of 1896. Technically, the WP&YR was originally a holding company for three small railroads organized in each, separate territory it operated. The original charter stipulated the WP&YR would run more than 300 miles although only 110 miles were ultimately built, reaching Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
The WP&YR would transition into a successful freight line handling ore concentrates, general merchandise, other local movements, and passengers. Until the early 1980s there were still employment opportunities with this company. At the time it was considering expansion but alas its main source of traffic, the Anvil Mine, which extracted lead-zinc ore, closed in late 1982. Since 1988 the WP&YR has carried on by providing popular excursions, hauling passengers from Skagway to Carcross, Yukon Territory utilizing roughly 67.5 miles of the original system. It is currently the busiest tourist railroad in the country witnessing nearly a half-million riders annually. Because of its success in this capacity there are some jobs available with the railroad. To learn more about these please visit their website here.
There were also three other small, narrow-gauge railroads that once operated in Alaska around the turn of the 20th century and all built as a result of the gold rush. The first was the Seward Peninsula Railroad, originally constructed as the Wild Goose Railroad of 1900. It ran from Nome to Anvil City, a distance of about 6.5 miles. It was reorganized in 1904 as the Nome Artic Railroad and again as the Seward Peninsula Railroad in 1906. It was extended to Lane's Landing giving the railroad a length of 85 miles. Operations were intermittent during the next several decades and the line was finally abandoned in 1955. The second carrier was the small Golovin Bay Railroad, which began construction in 1902 and completed 8 miles from Council City to the Number 15 Ophir Creek Mine located along Ophir Creek.
It was relatively unsuccessful and shutdown in 1906. Finally, there was the Tanana Valley Railroad, organized as the Tanana Mines Railroad in 1904 to construct a line from Chena, a small port town located along the Tanana River near Fairbanks, to Circle City along the Yukon River. It was reorganized as the Tanana Valley Railroad in 1906 with much greater ambitions of completing a 600-mile system from Dawson City to Nome, via Faibanks, a distance of around 600 miles to serve gold and copper fields. Unfortunately, the promoters' plans never materialized and only 66 miles was actually completed; 21 miles from Chena to Gilmore, a 5-mile branch to Fairbanks, and a 40-mile extension to Chatanika. As an isolated system it relied on exporting freight and passengers along the Tanana River. In 1917 the Tanana Valley Railroad was acquired by the U.S. government and incorporated into the Alaska Railroad (ARR).
The present-day Alaska Railroad was formed largely through this manner via smaller, standard-gauged systems merged into one. The first was the Alaska Central Railroad, completed in 1903 its main line between Seward and 51 miles to the north near what is now Anchorage (a point known as the Ship Creek). This was essentially the beginning of what is today widely recognized as the Alaska Railroad. It was later reorganized as the Alaska Northern and extended 71 miles to Kern Creek in 1910. Another name change came in 1914 when the Alaska Railroad was officially created by the government. Today, the carrier runs from the Gulf of Alaska at Seward to Whittier via Fairbanks and Anchorage, operating a total of 470 miles.
Over the years there have been several service extension proposals to increase freight traffic and provide the state with more efficient and reliable transportation. The most ambitious of these, working in conjunction with the Canada and the provinces of Yukon and British Columbia, would see the ARR connected with the North American rail network. However, a number of issues have thus far precluded this from occurring, the most significant of which is cost. Along with using Indeed.com in searching for possible job openings with the Alaska Railroad you can also visit the company's website directly, which has employment information there.
Alaska Railroad Jobs