478 Miles of SteelSeward to Fairbanks
The Alaska Railroad Act of March 12, 1914,
was a remarkable piece of legislation.
Prior to that date, the history of railroading in Alaska had rarely been one
of financial successes. In essence, Congress "committed itself to a project
without promise of monetary return." The act allowed the president of the
United States to choose a route, then construct and operate a railroad in
the territory of Alaska. With the exception of the Panama Railway, never
before had the U.S. government owned or operated a railroad.
Congress and the president believed that Alaska was a "storehouse" waiting
to be unlocked. The key was transportation.
Construction of the railroad from Seward on the Pacific Ocean to the
interior town of Fairbanks began in 1915 and took eight years.
The railroad, which was not to exceed 1,000 miles, was to accomplish the
-Connect a harbor on the Pacific Ocean to navigable rivers
in interior Alaska;
-Connect the coal fields, agricultural lands, mineral
deposits, and other valuable resources of Alaska to a
-Provide for settlement;
-Provide transportation of coal for the Army and Navy;
-Provide transportation of troops, arms, and war
-Provide transportation for the U.S. mail, passengers, and
At Nenana, on a warm Sunday afternoon July 15, 1923,
President Warren G. Harding - the first U.S. president to
visit Alaska - tapped in the golden spike, the ceremonial joining of the rails
from north to south. Then he pounded in its iron replacement. The
mission was accomplished!