Last year the Alaska Railroad was forced to cancel its annual Holiday Train from Anchorage to Seward because of avalanche concerns associated with the route's mountain pass. This year they've announced that the special charter has been canceled indefinitely.
In December each year, the festival train delivered passengers from Anchorage to Seward, where events like the Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair were organized in conjunction with the train’s arrival. Tickets for the yearly trip regularly sold out.
Alaska Railroad’s interim president and CEO, Bill O'Leary, sent a letter to Seward Chamber Commerce president Dan McDonald explaining the company’s decision to cancel the Holiday Train. In it he describes an avalanche in March 2009 that partially buried a freight train traveling through the pass.
The threat of avalanches had previously affected the railroad's popular Ski Train, eliminating Grandview (south of Anchorage) but keeping the trip to Curry (near Talkeetna). Over the past two years, economic woes and layoffs had led to the cancellation of the Ski Train as well as the railroad’s other winter charters (though the Ski Train will make a comeback in March).
That same financial uncertainty also led to the Holiday Train’s cancellation in September. Hotel Seward proprietor Mary Kulstad and other business owners in Seward have since organized a Seward Holiday Bus as a replacement. The event offers both a day trip and overnight option, with a room at the Hotel Seward included in the overnight bus fare. The trip offers an onboard DJ and a "Chinese Christmas" celebration, with a tree-lighting ceremony, hay rides, the annual arts and crafts fair and other games and events happening in Seward that weekend.
Kulstad said that the Downtown Seward Association chose to pursue the Holiday Bus option because of the economic hit the city took when last year’s train was canceled. In the meantime, Wendy Lindskoog, the railroad’s vice president of corporate affairs, said it is also looking at options for reinstating charter trips to Seward earlier in the season.
"After the tourist season," Lindskoog said, "it’s nice to be able to work more closely with the community."
Here are the details for the Holiday Bus.
Day bus: $70 children, $80 adults.
Overnight package (includes room at Hotel Seward): $70 children, $130-$170 adult)
Buses depart Anchorage 9 a.m. Saturday Dec. 4 from University Center mall, 3901 Old Seward Highway.
Day bus leaves Seward 5 p.m. Saturday.
Overnight bus leaves Seward noon Sunday.
For tickets or more information, call 224-8001 or 800-440-2444 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Matt Sullivan