Alaska Railroad 2-8-0 Restoration Enters Home Stretch

The 557 Locomotive Restoration Company is organizing a private charter on the summer Solstice to raise funds for the restoration of Alaska Railroad 2-8-0 557. Photo by Michael Bridges.

Alaska Railroad 2-8-0 Restoration Enters Home Stretch

By Justin Franz 

Standard gauge steam could return to the “Last Frontier” as early as next year as the decade-long operational restoration of Alaska Railroad 2-8-0 557 enters the homestretch. 

This spring, the volunteer crew restoring the S160 class Consolidation is approaching a number of milestones, including a scheduled hydrostatic test in May with the Federal Railroad Administration and the installation of Positive Train Control, a necessity to operate on ARR. If everything goes according to plan, the locomotive could be running in early 2025. In order to make that dream a reality, the non-profit Engine 557 Restoration Company is hosting a special passenger charter on the summer solstice this June. 

Locomotive 557 was one of more than 2,000 S160 Class 2-8-0s built for the U.S. Army by Alco, Baldwin and Lima (557 was built by Baldwin). The locomotives were meant to be built quickly and deployed to war-torn Europe. The S160s would eventually go on to work on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. In 1944, a dozen S160s were sent to Alaska for use on the federally-owned railroad there, including 3523, which would soon be renumbered 557. Along with a new number, the locomotive got some improvements for service in Alaska, including a larger air compressor, a heated cab and a plow for seasonal use. The 557 initially burned coal but was later converted to oil. In the 1950s, the Alaska began to retire its steam locomotives but 557 was retained for use in Nenana where the rivers often flooded the right-of-way. The locomotive was also used for special events. In 1964, the locomotive was sold to private individuals and moved to Washington State where it was put on display. 

Volunteers work on Alaska Railroad 2-8-0 557. Photo by Brice Douglas. 

In 2011, the locomotive returned north. Locomotive 557 arrived in Alaska in January 2012 and it was moved to Wasilla where volunteers have been working on it ever since. 

Among the items that need to be completed include the reassembly of the fire pan, burner and superheater; the installation of boiler lagging, jacket and rods; and the installation of PTC. The group has opted to use “LeaPTC,” the same system used on Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 4014. 

Since the effort started, the Engine 557 Restoration Company has raised $1.6 million, but more is needed to get the restoration over the finish line. To help in that, on June 21, the group will host a private car trip aboard the “Aurora” — a single-level, full dome with rear platform — from Anchorage to Seward and return. The trip will include rare milage for passengers at Seward as well as a chance to take in the sights there for the afternoon. Tickets are $700 per person and include a full day of entertainment, snacks and drinks. The train departs Anchorage at 6:45 a.m. and only 25 spots are available. For more information and to buy tickets, contact trip coordinator Brice Douglas via email (bricecycle@icloud.com) or phone (937-469-4300). Tickets cannot be booked through the Alaska Railroad for the trip. 

Correction: This story has been updated to note that the Alaska Railroad no longer owns the locomotive. 

This article was posted on: April 5, 2024