If you're going to Alaska this summer, consider the 15-day unlimited rail pass offered by Alaska Railroad Corp.
The pass costs $199 and is good for 15 consecutive days, starting from the first day's use. When buying the pass, travelers must indicate the first day they plan to use it within the May 20 to Sept. 20 season.
Reservations for seats are required. All of the routes involve only daytime travel, thus there are no sleepers on the trains.
Meals and beverages aboard the trains are extra. There's a dining room on the daily Anchorage-Fairbanks-Anchorage route. Passengers on these trains also can use a vista dome for viewing the scenery. On some routes there is a commentary by tour guides.
The rail line also offers packages that include accommodations, but you can't use a tour in conjunction with the pass.
Among the points you can visit on the Anchorage-Fairbanks-Anchorage route are Wasila, Talkeetna, Denali National Park and Nenana. Wasila is a farming community in the Matanuska Valley, famed for its 80-pound cabbages.
Talkeetna offers views of Mt. McKinley and is the staging area for mountain climbers. Nenana features the Rail Depot Museum and a fish wheel--a moon-shaped basket that locals use to catch fish. Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city after Anchorage, is the northern terminus of the line.
Other rail possibilities are a four-hour Anchorage-Portage-Seward journey (no diner but there is sandwich service), and a 12-mile Portage-Whittier shuttle ride for which reservations are not required. This latter train also carries, for a fee, cars, trailers and recreational vehicles. The shuttle connects with the Alaska Marine Highway ferry at Whittier, to Valdez and Cordova.
There is also flag-stop service (which means you can flag the train to stop for you) three days a week from Anchorage to Hurricane Gulch and back. This round-trip is taken mainly for the scenery and local color, without passengers (other than locals) getting off. The round trip takes about 10 hours.
One tip: Dress casually and wear layered clothing to adjust to changing temperatures.
For more information, contact travel agents or the Alaska Railroad Corp., or call toll-free (800) 544-0552.