The Alaskan Railroad is the largest and main railroad running between the main cities and towns of Alaska.
You may have heard of the Alaskan Railroad and the Aurora Winter Train along with other railroad sounding names such as the Denali Star and the White Pass and Yukon Railroad.
With so many wonderful sounding networks, railroads, and routes it is very easy to get confused understanding the differences between them such as which are railroad companies, which are networks, and which are routes.
Fortunately, we have an easy answer.
The summarized version is shown in the next paragraph, but after we cover how best to explore the Alaskan Railroad, when to travel on the Aurora Winter Train and other routes and options available.
The Alaskan Railroad is the name of the company operating the main Alaskan railroad services from as far south as Seward and as far north as Fairbanks. The Aurora Winter Train is a route operated by the Alaskan Railroad between Anchorage and Fairbanks and runs off-peak during the cold winter season.
In fact, the Aurora Winter Train and the Denali Star operate the exact route but just at different times of the year.
The Denali Star, run by the Alaskan Railroad, is a mostly tourist service during the spring and summer months where there is up to 22 hours of daylight.
The Aurora Winter Train, also run by the Alaskan Railroad, travels the exact same route between Anchorage and Fairbanks, but operates between autumn and winter where this is up to 22 hours of darkness.
This route although caters to a small number of tourists is mainly used by locals commuting between towns and cities for work, for supplies and to see friends and family.
It is possible to see the Aurora Borealis – also known as the Northern Lights – from the Aurora Winter Train, as it operates mostly in darkness and the full journey time between Anchorage and Fairbanks is 10 hours.
Which Routes are Operated by the Alaskan Railroad Company
The Aurora Winter Train is just one of the routes operated by the Alaskan Railroad.
Additional routes include the Denali Star, Coastal Classic and the Glacier Discovery.
The Denali Star also travels the route between Anchorage and Fairbanks and is very popular with tourists. The Denali Star train includes the prestige Goldstar Service with full dining options and a fully immersive 360-degree viewing area owing to its large panoramic windows.
Although Alaska has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world not much of it can be seen on the Aurora Winter Train because, owing to its name, it runs in wintertime during which time Fairbanks may see less than 2 hours of daylight per day.
The Coastal Classic is another popular route and runs between Anchorage and Seward in the far south.
Seward is the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park.
The Glacier Discovery is a short 2-hour route and operates between Anchorage and Whittier.
Is the Alaskan Railroad different to White Pass and Yukon Railroad
The White Pass and Yukon Railroad operates its own routes to the east of Alaska and operates almost exclusively to tourists in the spring and summer months.
Tickets for the routes operated under both railroad companies in Alaska need to be booked via the website of each railroad.
It is not possible to exchange train tickets or use the same ticket across both an Alaskan Railroad and White Pass and Yukon Railroad route.
Can you see the Northern Lights from the Aurora Winter Train
It is possible to see the Northern Lights from the Aurora Winter Train, although sightings are not guaranteed.
The route is aptly named due to the time of year the service operates and does not specifically operate for people to see the Northern Lights, despite it being possible.
Cloud coverage is one of the disappointing regularities across Alaska and can often disappoint tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis in full magical flow.
In late December the 10-hour train journey operates almost all of its journey in darkness, so although sightseeing isn’t possible it does give many hours of potential Northern Light seeing.
Fairbanks is home to the most Northern Light sightings than any other main city in Alaska.
Is the Aurora Winter Train popular with Tourists
Due to the cold weather and almost total darkness across winter, the Alaska tourist season usually ends around early October, before the Aurora Winter Train makes its first journey of the year.
Many Alaskan residents use the Aurora Winter train for commuting to work, for supplies for those living off-grid and in much smaller towns and also to visit friends and family.
This isn’t to say Alaska is without tourism during the winter months – especially for Norther Light sightings – but usually the Aurora Winter train route is used by Alaskans rather than tourists.