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Letter: Commuter train

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By Cynthia Wentworth and LaMarr Anderson

Updated: 2 hours ago Published: 2 hours ago

We read with interest “Curious Alaska: What’s Wrong With Anchorage Airport Station?” by Michelle Theriault Boots (July 24). The article stated that major plans to use the Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot never quite materialized. Here is one of the reasons why:

In 2018, LaMarr Anderson and I served as the two public members of Governor Bill Walker’s Commuter Rail Advisory Task Force. The task force also included officials from Mat-Su, Anchorage, the Alaska Department of Transportation and the Alaska Railroad. After studying and discussing, the task force recommended the pilot program proposed by the Alaska Railroad for 2020. This program was for weekday winter service between Wasilla, downtown Anchorage and the airport of Anchorage. ‘Anchorage, with two trains running daily in each direction between October 15 and April 15. This service would have, in its infancy, brought up to 468 people to Anchorage each weekday, some of them going to the airport, either for work or to catch their flight. The airport complex is the largest employment center in Anchorage.

Initial capital and operating costs for this pilot program would have been approximately $15 million, nearly half of which was one-time capital expenditures. While Governor Walker enthusiastically supported this pilot program, the Legislature did not approve funding, as state finances at the time were very tight. The working group was then disbanded.

The $15 million requested was a tiny sum compared to the $951 million spent building the Alaska Highway in 2019-20, 90% of which was in federal dollars. This federal money is acquired thanks to a counterpart of 10% of the State. Unfortunately, such a matching system does not exist for rail. However, if our state leaders chose to support commuter rail funding in the future, federal dollars would likely be easier to come by. And the Bill Sheffield Alaska Railroad Depot would be used daily by Alaska residents, which was part of the original intent. The commuter rail would also help reduce winter traffic on the Glenn Highway and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

—Cynthia Wentworth

Anchoring

LaMarr Anderson

Palm

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