Alaska – People living and working along the railroad tracks may notice dozens of small unique vehicles putting along the tracks over the next few weeks. They are part of the Motorcar Operators West’s
(MOW) 15th Annual Pacific Northwest Tour, occurring on the Alaska Railroad (ARRC) September 8 – 22, 2011.
The group will spend nine days on the track, while exploring railbelt communities along the way. Members of the non-profit organization are rail fans and hobbyists who restore and operate historic railroad
motorcars (also known as track speeders), which were used by track inspectors and work crews to move quickly between work sites. According to Tour Meet Coordinator Chris Baldo, by the late 1980s, most speeders were replaced by trucks outfitted with flanged steel wheels (known as hyrail vehicles) that enable travel by road and rail. Obsolete motorcars are now often collected and refurbished by hobbyists, such the MOW group.
The 2011 tour involves 29 motorcars traveling 500 feet apart and operating 25 mph on average (maximum 35mph). Two Alaska Railroad track maintenance/safety officials will be escorting the group with one ARRC hyrail vehicle in the lead and one in the rear of the convoy. The group, which includes 70 participants, is paying for railroad resources involved in ensuring a safe trip, and the tour activity will not interfere with regular Alaska Railroad operations. According to Baldo, the 2011 tour brings some significant economic benefit during the tourism shoulder season, with spending expected to total several hundred thousand dollars on fees, airfare, lodging, tours, dining and retail sales.
Typically, the group selects low-use sections of rail in the Pacific Northwest states, but every few years the MOW coordinates a special tour in Alaska. This year marks the fourth time MOW has toured the Alaska Railroad. The first time was in 2004. The group’s 2011 itinerary is as follows:
September 7 – Set on track and move to staging area in Anchorage
September 8 – Leave Anchorage at 8:45 a.m., overnight in Talkeetna
September 9 – Leave Talkeetna 8:00 a.m., 3 nights in Denali (Sept. 9-11)
September 12 – Leave Denali 6:00 a.m., 3 nights in Fairbanks (Sept. 12-14)
September 15 – Leave Fairbanks 8:00 a.m.; overnight in Denali
September 16 – Leave Denali 6:00 a.m.; 2 nights in Talkeetna (Sept. 16-17)
September 18 – Leave Talkeetna 8:00 a.m.; overnight in Wasilla
September 19 – Leave Wasilla TBA morning; overnight in Girdwood
September 20 – Leave Girdwood 9:00 a.m.; stop in Whittier; 2 nights in Seward (Sept. 20-21)
September 22 – Leave Seward 9:00 a.m.; overnight in Anchorage (trip over)