What is the problem with the Anchorage airport train station?

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Question: What is the problem with the Anchorage airport train station? Does anyone use it?

Alaska’s busiest airport is connected to a train station, a tunnel from the terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot cost $28 million to build in the early 2000s with federal funds secured by the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, then at the height of his influence in Congress. At its grand opening in late 2002, Stevens called the facility “years ahead of its time”.

That may still be the case. The major plans for using the repository never quite materialized.

The facility itself is a 24,000 square foot state-of-the-art building connected to the airport by a tunnel with twinkling LED screens meant to evoke the Northern Lights. The design won a prestigious architectural citation.

“Passengers and visitors arriving in Anchorage by air and sea are greeted by a warm glow from an icy backdrop appearing from afar. The station, a colorful beacon that reflects the dramatic patterns of shimmering lights in the sky, celebrates the wonders of nature,” AIArchitect wrote of the building in 2004, a few years after it opened.

Although the drop off is a familiar sight from the arrival and departure decks of the airport, most locals have not been there unless you are attending a wedding or wedding event. ‘company.

The depot is currently not open to the public and is used for charter train transfers of visitors to the cruise ship docks at Whittier and Seward. This service operates from May through September, with an average of two to three train arrivals per week, said Alaska Railroad spokeswoman Christy Terry.

Beyond that, there is no regular passenger service.

When the depot was originally designed, it was hoped that its use could include trains to the city center or even a commuter train to the Mat-Su and beyond. A 1999 marketing plan called for up to 200,000 annual passengers, according to a Daily News article on the 2010 filing.

But those numbers did not materialize.

In 2009, the depot served 20,000 passengers, the Daily News reported. And in 2019, the last year before the pandemic scrambled travel, the depot saw 16,938 passengers. In June 2022, the depot handled 17 train arrivals and 4,978 passengers, according to Alaska Railroad figures.

Outside of the summer rental season, the building is heavily used for rentals such as corporate events and even weddings, at $400 per hour.

“Beautiful and modern, the Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot offers luxurious and spacious space for special gatherings. Perfect for conferences, seminars and any other kind of corporate function,” the marketing copy reads, also boasting “state-of-the-art lighting.”

It’s a nice place for events — spacious and airy, said travel expert and Alaska columnist Scott McMurren. There, he organized marketing events for tourism businesses. But it is probably not reaching its full potential as a piece of transport infrastructure.

“Well, what are you going to do with it?” The reason that exists is to connect the railway to the airport. We can have a really nice facility, but if you don’t have the train there, you know, connect things…” he said.

The idea of ​​extending service from the airport to the downtown train depot, or even a commuter train to Palmer or beyond, never really took off, McMurren said.

The Alaska Railroad says that while the depot is used for cruise ship transfers, that may not always be the case.

“Although this is our current service, it is not our ultimate end intention,” Terry said. “And we often market and review passenger service options at this facility.”

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