An Alaskan Regional Railroad - 1930's
Copper River & Northwestern Railway


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The Copper River & Northwestern Railway (CR&NW) was a 196 mile long railroad completed in 1911 to transport bags of copper ore from the Kennecott Copper Mine in the eastern Interior of Alaska,, to loading ships in Cordova. The CR&NW's western port terminus Cordova, and this region of Alaska, is not linked to the rest of the Alaska highway system. Access to Cordova is by airplane or by loading ferry and traveling the Alaska Marine Highway System. Construction of this line was very difficult due to extreme weather conditions and the need to build a large four span bridge across the Copper River. The line offered magnificent views of the glaciers in the region and its passenger operations included many tourists enjoying its fine panoramas. The line was quite successful due to the expanding need for copper. The mines ran out of profitable copper in the late 30's and on November 11, 1938 the mine and railroad were abandoned, except for a short segment at Cordova that serviced an air force installation until 1946. The 48 mile section of right of way from Cordova to the "Million Dollar Bridge" is paved and lead to many sightseeing paths and trails. A very fine historical museum existts in Cordova. .

alt= Copper River & Northwestern - December 1930


CR&NW Copper River Bridge


Bridge with Glacier background

Short History of the Copper River & Northwestern Railway
c 1885 - Copper was discovered at the Bonanza mine near McCarthy, above the Kennecott Glacier.
1900 - The Bonanza mine was finally claimed and surveyed.
1906 - Separate railroad projects were planned to get the copper to ports for shipment to smelters. The Copper River Railroad Co. began a line from the newly created town site of Cordova to head up the Copper River. The Alaska Syndicate, run by the Guggenheim Brothers and J. Pierpont Morgan, was building up from Valdez through Keystone Canyon.
1906 - The Alaska Syndicate purchased the assets of the Copper River Railway and renamed their venture the Copper River and Northwestern (CR&NW) Railway. The construction was stopped on the line from Valdez with plans to build from the town of Katalia on the Gulf of Alaska and nearby coal fields.
1907 - Bad storms hit Katalia, the then designated port for the CR&NW. Attempts to build breakwater fails..
1907 - In Cordova, railroad engineer Michael J. Heney was brought out of retirement in late 1907 by the Guggenheims to build the CR&NW from Cordova.
1907-08 - In the winter of 07-08 crews began building from Cordova toward the Copper River near Miles glacier at mile 51.
mid 1908 - Trackage to mile 47 completed; short of river crossing point between Miles and Childs glaciers.
1908-9 - In the winter of 08-09 temporary tracks were laid on the ice of the Copper River so supplies could be moved to the east side of the river and construction continued.
1909 - In August the rails were laid to mile 101.
1909-10 - During the winter of 09-10 the three bridge piers were hammered to bed rock and by early spring 1910 were ready for four steel spans, but the steel was delayed by two months.
1910 - On June 19, 1910. The impossible bridge over the Copper River had been built by bridge engineer A. C. O'Neel.
1910 - In the fall mile 132 had been reached.
1911 - On March 26 the last (copper) spike was driven and the line was complete 216 miles to Kennecott.
1911 - The first train arrived in Cordova on April 8, 1911 to a huge celebration. From this point on, it was to become business as usual, with trains making the trip between Cordova and Kennecott on a regular basis.
1911-17 - During these years a difficult struggle to open coal fields, effectively, closed by governmental regulations fails. A proposed spur line to access coal fields near Katalia is dropped, and the CR&NW converts its steam engines to oil. Smelters planned for Alaska are not built and copper ore is shipped from Cordova to Tacoma, Washington for smelting.
1915 - There were three round trips made each week, and the mine was now turning a profit.
1916 - Full production was reached in 1916 when 120 million pounds of high grade ore was removed from the mine, with a value of $32 million.
1920's - CR&NW is becoming a tourist attraction.
1930 - CR&NW operating a daily passenger train between Cordova and Kennecott.
1932 - Depression affects copper prices and mines close during winter months, shutting down CR&NW during that time.
1935 - Mining activities stop at Kennecott.
1938 - Last train operates on November 11.
1939 - CR&NW ceases operations.


Xopper River map
Copper River & Northwestern - 1930


Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- various editions
http://www.alaskayukontravel.com/copperriverhwy.htm
http://www.engineeringsights.org/SightDetail.asp?Sightid=536&id=ak&view=s&name=Alaska&page=1%E2%84%91=0
http://www.alaskacoinexchange.com/Articles/Copper%20Rush.htm

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Web Page Written and Maintained by Richard Parks
Copyright Richard Parks, April 27, 2009, revised May 11, 2011