Tanana Valley Railroad.

A dissapointing hike through smelly swamps. If I get around to following any more of the grade I'll post updates here.

    This narrow-guage railroad preceeded the Alaska Railroad as Fairbanks' first train service. Originally begun as the Tanana Mines railway in 1904, the system eventually stretched about miles from Chena to Fairbanks, and from a switch at Happy up to Fox, Olnes, and Chatanika for a total of about 25 miles. The railroad provided freight and passenger service to the mines in the Chatanika and Fox areas, and also helped bring in some of the early dredges to the area. Between 1910 and 1917 the Railroad began to lose money and was eventually sold to the Alaska Engineering Comission, which built the Alaska Railroad. During construction of the Alaska Railroad in the 1920s, the Tanana valley railroad was extended south from Fairbanks to Nenana, and then widened to standard guage to become the northern end of the Alaska Railroad. The Chatanika branch remained in service until 1930, and the stretch of track from Happy into Fairbanks was actually dual guage. Narrow Guage trains from Chatanika and standard-guage trains from Anchorage and Seward used the same roadbed from Happy into Fairbanks, and a narrow-guage trolley operated between Fairbanks and College where the University of Alaska was being built. Most of the buildings were removed, and the narrow guage cars were modified or sold off. Some of the original track was left on the right-of-way, but much of it was salvaged for scrap. The original steam engine #1 now pulls a tourist train at Alaskaland.

Searching for the line.
    I'd been interested in this abandoned railroad since before I came to UAF. Old maps showing things like "abandoned railroad grade" sparked my curiosity, but depending on which USGS maps you looked at, the railroad grade appeared in different places. I finally managed to get my hands on a GPS mapping program which combined topographic and satellite images, allowing me to pinpoint the path of the old railroad. I set out to follow it as far as I could by bike, starting at the Alaska Railroad crossing and former switch at Happy and hoping to get at least as far as Fox. Unfortunately I soon bogged down in the swampy land along the grade, and despite using a PDA GPS I was unable to confirm the existence of the railroad grade for much of the trip. The railroad has degraded into a marshy trail and overgrown ditches, barely identifiable along most of the route I followed. I ended up making it only as far as the first main road crossing in the Goldstream Valley. Having sunk into the stinky swamps on several occasions I decided to return when the ground was more solid.


The AKRR crossing at Happy, and a maintenance train on the siding. The siding marks the location of the old switch between the northern and southern branches of the TVRR.

A trash pile of unknown age, and a powerline corridor following the old TVRR route.

The only real evidence of the railroad's existance. A small decaying bridge and a few ties and spikes along the way were all I could find.

The GPS was very useful, but I still managed to get lost in lots of thick brush and greasy swamps.