Letters to the Editor

Letter: Commuter rail

We read with interest Sunday’s “Curious Alaska: What’s the deal with Anchorage’s airport train station?” by Michelle Theriault Boots (July 24). The article stated that grand plans for use of the Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot have never quite materialized. Here is one reason why:

In 2018, LaMarr Anderson and I served as the two public members on Gov. Bill Walker’s Commuter Rail Advisory Task Force. The task force was also composed of Mat-Su, Anchorage, Alaska Department of Transportation, and Alaska Railroad officials. After studying and much discussion, the task force recommended the Alaska Railroad’s proposed pilot program for 2020.This program was for winter weekday service between Wasilla, downtown Anchorage, and the Anchorage airport, with two trains daily traveling in each direction between Oct. 15 and April 15. This service would, in its infancy, have brought up to 468 people into Anchorage every weekday, some of them traveling on to the airport, either for their jobs or to catch their flights. The airport complex is the largest employment center in Anchorage.

Initial capital and operating costs for this pilot program would have been about $15 million, almost half of it one-time capital expenses. While Gov. Walker enthusiastically supported this pilot program, the Legislature did not approve the funding, as state finances at that time were very tight. The task force was subsequently disbanded.

The $15 million requested was a tiny amount compared with the $951 million spent on Alaska highway construction during 2019-2020, 90% of it federal dollars. This federal money is acquired through a 10% state match. Unfortunately, no such matching system exists for rail. However, if our state leaders choose to support funding for commuter rail in the future, federal dollars would probably be easier to obtain. And the Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot would be used daily by Alaska residents, which was part of the original intent. Commuter rail would also help reduce winter traffic on the Glenn Highway and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

— Cynthia Wentworth

Anchorage

LaMarr Anderson

Palmer

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