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Alaska Railroad's new dome cars

Last year, we mentioned that Alaska Railroad had ordered two new bilevel cars for a new luxury service that will kick off later in the summer of 2005. Those cars are now completed, and on their way to Alaska, and I am told that tickets for the cars are selling quite well.

I was fortunate enough to be at Colorado Railcar to see the cars being handed off to the UP, and also caught up with the cars several times during their trip via BNSF to Seattle to get several shots of the interior and exterior of the cars. I was also interested to see the differences between the actual cars and the conceptual illustration I prepared last year.

The evening before being picked up by the Union Pacific, Alaska Railroad 651 and 652 are being readied at Colorado Railcar's plant in Ft. Lupton. The most noteworthy feature of the cars is the upstairs observation platform, made necessary by the large kitchens the cars have on the lower level.

A BNSF yard job drags the 651 and 652 past Coors Field in Denver on its way to 31st Street Yard to be tacked onto the rear of the M-DENLAU-14 to begin its journey to Seattle. The lettering on the ends reads: OVERHEIGHT CAR 18'-1"

In normal operation, the cars will face this way, with a baggage car between them and the power, and a dining car directly behind. It's easier to see the windows above the observation platform.

A little closer look at the observation platform end of the 651 in Greybull, WY. Note on the lower level, the smaller window, which sits alongside the two top table in the dining area. It is also worth noting that the doors to the observation platform were boarded off and sealed for shipping.

Another exterior view of the cars as they sit in the siding at Lombard, MT just beyond the former crossing of the Milwaukee Road.

The decor of the 652 (shown) and 651 is a little more reserved than the ex-Florida Fun Train single level cars. (see ARR 551 for a comparison) The seats were comfortable, but the headrest wings were a little low for a tall guy like me when the seats were completely upright.

Though the observation platform was sealed off, there is a large window that afforded a good idea of what the view will be like in service. Just subtract the freight train and the northern Wymoing scenery and add in Alaska RR varnish and the spectacular Alaska scenery. The silver plate below the middle opening is the builders' plate.

Looking forward at the large windows in the front of the 652. The seats also have airline-style drop down seat trays.

The wheelchair lift and controls on the upper level of the 651, also showing one of the large windows between the car interior and the observation deck.

One of my favorite features in these cars is the exquisite glass work, as evidenced around the service bar of the 651 in Ft. Lupton. The bar includes a coffee maker, refridgerator, sink, ice bin and lots of storage.

There's more where that came from. Click here to continue to page two of the tour, and see the lower levels, and some photos of the cars being loaded on a barge in Seattle for shipment to Alaska.

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