The Sn3 Alaska Pacific Railway & Navigation Company

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My freelanced Alaska Pacific Railway & Navigation Company is loosely based upon the real Alaska Pacific Railway & Terminal Company that attempted to build a standard gauge railroad from the coast of Alaska, at Katalla, up the Copper River to the interior during 1906 and 1907.   While over a dozen different railroads were proposed for this region, only three or four got past the initial planning stage and only one survived for more than a year or two.

What follows is a brief history of Katalla and its railroads and a description of my Sn3 Alaska Pacific Railway & Navigation Company.

 

Katalla, Alaska and its Railroads  

The  first commercial quantities of oil discovered in Alaska were found oozing out of the ground just south of Katalla around 1904.  Commercial quantities of coal were also found along the Bering River just prior to the turn of the century.  The discovery of oil along with an announcement by the Copper River & Northwestern Railroad that it was going to use Katalla as its access to the Pacific Ocean turned Katalla into a boom town of over 5,000 residents by 1907.  The Copper River & Northwestern planned to build a standard gauge line up the Copper River to the Kennecott Copper mine near McCarthy. 

 

Railway facilities at Katalla - 1907 Katalla Dock with town in back round - 1907

In addition to the Copper River & Northwestern there were a number of other proposals for the construction of railroads near Katalla.  One of these, the Alaska Pacific Railroad & Terminal Co, actually began construction of a deep water pier on Whale Island, railroad facilities at Katalla, and about 20 miles of mainline in the general direction of Martin Lake and the Bering River Coal Fields.  Railroad construction had only just begun, on both the Alaska Pacific and The Copper River & Northwestern, when a series of storms during November of 1907 destroyed the docks and breakwaters of both companies along with most of the town of Katalla.  While the Alaska Pacific vowed to rebuild at Katalla, the Copper River & Northwestern decided that Cordova, with its well protected harbor, was a better choice for its port facilities.  

 

Katalla breakwater construction at low tide

Alaska Pacific trestle between Fox Island & Katalla

The Copper River & Northwestern, with strong financial backing from the founders of Kennecott Copper Company, ultimately finished building their 196 mile standard gauge railroad from Cordova to Kennecott in 1911.  The Copper River & Northwestern lasted until 1938 when a combination of depressed copper prices and dwindling reserves at the mines near Kennecott bought about the abandonment of the railroad.  Over the life of the railroad, over $200 million in copper ore moved between the mines at Kennecott and the docks at Cordova.  While the Copper River & Northwestern surveyed for a branch line from Mile 38 to Katalla, primarily to tap Bering River coal, this line was never built.

Meanwhile back in Katalla, things weren't going well for the Alaska Pacific.  It has been estimated that the Alaska Pacific spent over $2 million developing its facilities at Katalla and the company was out of money.  Efforts to raise additional capital failed, workers went unpaid and Katalla began its slow but inevitable decline becoming not much more than a ghost town following the 1933 fire that destroyed the small St Elias oil refinery.   Over the next decade a number of companies were organized to build railroads to the Bering River coal fields and beyond but only one got beyond the planning stage.  The Alaska Anthracite began construction in 1916 and by 1918 it was hauling some coal from the Bering River coal fields to its terminus on Controller Bay called “Goose City”.  The company was reorganized in 1921 and again in 1925.  Both attempts failed to raise the $1.5 million necessary to complete the railroad, wharf and other facilities needed in order to make the operation viable.

 

Chilkat Oil Co's Refinery near Katalla, Alaska

Dump train filling in trestle for breakwater at Katalla

Other factors were also working against railroad development around Katalla.  In July of 1907, President Roosevelt created the Chugach National Forest that restricted additional development of the coal and oil fields around Katalla.  At that time, less than 5% of the coal used in Alaska was mined within the state.  

When the St Elias refinery burned in 1933, there less than 100 people living in Katalla.  All traces of Katalla have since vanished.........

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