Monday, May 26, 2008

Boxcars Go to Sea - Alaska Steamship

Alaska Steamship Company, Trainship "Alaska III." Alaska Steamship began freight and passenger service to Alaska back in 1894. Under intense pressure to compete with the Seattle – Whittier Hydro Train barge service initiated in 1953, and the Prince Rupert – Whittier “CN AquaTrain” service initiated in 1962, Alaska Steamship Company purchased a Japanese-built rail car carrier, The “City of New Orleans.”

Being the third Alaska Steam vessel to carry the name “Alaska” she was correctly referred to as the “Alaska III.” She had a capacity of up to 56 rail cars, completely protected from the rough waters of the Gulf of Alaska.

However, Alaska Steamship was unable to legally operate the ship from Seattle to Whittier because of the Jones Act restrictions. The Jones Act—the U.S. cabotage law requires that all waterborne cargo transported directly between points in the U.S. – in this case, Seattle and Whittier, must be shipped aboard vessels built in the U.S., crewed by American citizens, and owned and operated by American companies.

To work around the Jones Act, Alaska Steamship registered the vessel in Liberia, and created a Canadian subsidiary – Alaska Trainship Corporation - and began rail trainship services from Delta Alaska Terminal, near New Westminster, BC to Whittier. The
Delta Alaska Terminal was a major interchange between the Great Northern Railroad and Canadian National Railways.

In August 1967, whilst negotiating heavy fog in Queen Charlotte Strait, the trainship “Alaska III” collided with Northland Navigation Company's freight and passenger coaster The “Northland Prince.”

The “Northland Prince” sustained a 20-foot gash in her bow and six of the 90 passengers aboard received minor injuries. The “Alaska III” received lesser damage, also above the waterline, and both vessels were able to proceed to repair yards under their own power.

The “Alaska III” made 500 round-trips carrying up to 56 rail cars on each voyage between 1964 and termination of service in 1974. On January 16, 1971, Alaska Steamship announced it was going out of containership business. The Alaska Steamship owners at first retained their Alaska trainship service from British Columbia to Whittier; but in the end, even this was sold in 1974 to Crowley Maritime.

Crowley continued to operate the trainship – competing with their Alaska Hydro Train service out of Seattle, for about two years, at which time the “Alaska III” was relegated to being a floating machine shop up on the North Slope.

Be sure to read the other entries in this series:

Boxcars Go to Sea Oct 6, 2007
Boxcars Go to Sea - CN "AquaTrain" - Mar 20, 2008
Boxcars Go to Sea - Vancouver Island - Nov 8, 2008
Boxcars Go to Sea - "M/V Corbin Foss Burns!" - Feb 28, 2009

1 Comments - Click here:

Captain Colin Smith M.Sc said...

I was Chief/2nd Officer on the S.S.Alaska from 1975 to 1978,when she was taken out of service. I rode her under tow by a Crowley tug down to Seattle. Years later I overflew her in her dock in New Westminster, BC. She was being converted into a camp and workshop barge. More years later I flew over her up in Tuktoyuktuk in the Arctic. I understood she broke free under tow to S.Korea for scrapping, and was swept onto the Russian coast. She had US skippers and Canadian crew. She paid extremely well for the time. I learned a lot on her.
Captain Colin Smith

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