Steam engine 557, a 69-year-old Alaska Railroad locomotive, rolled into Anchorage for the first time in many years Tuesday.
“It's a pretty big moment for Alaska and the railroad,” said David Blazejewski, the Alaska Railroad's transportation superintendent.
Blazejewski gathered along the Seward Highway with several other railroad fans to see the locomotive make its way from Whittier to Anchorage on a flatbed railcar, towed by a pair of diesel locomotives.
Engine 557 was the last regularly-scheduled steam locomotive to run on the Alaska Railroad, before it was retired in the 1960’s and sent to a museum down in Washington State.
The man who owned 557 passed away recently and some buyers up North decided to jump at the opportunity to bring the machine back to Alaska.
The owners of Lynden Transport purchased the locomotive and donated it to the Alaska Railroad.
As part of the deal, the railroad now has eight years to refurbish the engine and get it back into passenger service or the locomotive goes back to the donors.
“Should be able to do it sooner than that for sure, we'll be shooting for 2013. Whether we make it or not, not positive, but we can do it,” said Chris Aadnesen, the railroad's president and CEO.
Perhaps no one is looking forward to the next ride more than 89-year-old Weaver Franklin, who was among several people to gather at the downtown rail depot to greet 557 upon its arrival.
Franklin was a locomotive engineer and fireman on the Alaska Railroad in the 1940s, who says he used to run engine 557 and others like her.
“I got a lot of memories of that thing, it's quite an experience,” he said.
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