Railroad considers Wasilla-to-Anchorage service


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ANCHORAGE (AP) — Matanuska-Susitna Borough commuters could ride the Alaska Railroad into Anchorage under a plan being considered by railroad management.

The railroad is exploring weekday morning service from Wasilla to a platform in Anchorage's Ship Creek. Afternoon or early evening trains would return commuters to Wasilla.

Planning is in the early stages, said Jim Kubitz, vice president of corporate planning and real estate

"We're very preliminary here," Kubitz said. "But it's the right thing to do, to figure it out. We're owned by the state. We need to be able to offer alternatives."

New service would need approval by the railroad board. A briefing is planned for 9 a.m. Feb. 27 at Alaska Railroad Headquarters.

Management is looking at a three-year trial in mid-September, Kubitz told the Anchorage Daily News.

Two morning trains with three 160-passenger cars could depart 45 minutes apart. A round-trip fare likely would cost $10 to $12. Trains could also stop near Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

The trains would run weekdays from September through May. Tourists and cruise ship passengers fill passenger cars in summer.

Commuter service has been studied for decades. Railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said community leaders and commuters have recently showed renewed interest. Also, the railroad recently bought the old Kenai Supply warehouse along the Parks Highway, which offers track-side service.

About 30 percent of workers in the Mat-Su Borough use the Glenn Highway to reach jobs in Anchorage. About 860 make the commute in van pools through Anchorage Share-A-Ride. Others take Valley Mover buses.

The Mat-Su Borough is preparing a survey to gauge demand, said borough planning chief Eileen Probasco.

Kubitz said the idea of Wasilla service is evolving and would need needs financial backing from the railroad board, which is anticipating possible reductions in freight traffic from the announced closure of the Flint Hills Refinery in North Pole.

Passenger fares would defray only part of the cost of commuter service, he said.

"After three years we'll have a handle on costs but that's it," he said. "We're out of business unless someone can figure how to fund the difference."

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