Riding the rails for over 48 years, Harry Ross is an Alaskan icon. Ross came to Alaska from San Francisco with his mother in 1957, attending Denali Elementary School, Clark Junior High School, and East High School. He graduated from East Anchorage High School in 1964, East’s first full graduating class.
Starting at the then federally-owned Alaska Railroad in 1968, Ross began his ascent to the number-one seniority spot at the corporation. Ross gets first pick for trains and schedules, a position he’s held for at least the last 25 years.
No doubt a central figure in thousands of photo albums, Ross enjoys transporting people around the state he’s called home for nearly 60 years.
“I’m a people person and I like being around all the passengers, showing them my state in my moving office,” Ross said.
Ross has seen the rails transform during his time at the Alaska Railroad. From being hired as the Railroad’s first African-American and operating steam-powered equipment to a now state-owned railroad with far more safety regulations, chugging past glaciers less noticeable these days.
Over the past 48 years working with the Alaska Railroad, Ross has seen the company change hands from the federal government to state government, and dozens of CEOs walk through its doors. Stricter safety regulations were added as the years went by: Ross remembers when you could bring kids up to the front of the engine for Kodak moments. Now, only trainmen are allowed past the final car’s vestibule doors. Recently, the railroad was required by the Federal Railroad Administration to implement Positive Train Control, a system that will automatically prevent collisions and derailments, at a cost of $160 million — a huge change for both new and seasoned trainmen.
Beyond the recent safety measures, Ross recalls a time when even the track was laid out differently.
“Starting at Eklutna and through Matanuska, the track had a lot of curves. Today, it just goes straight through,” Ross said.
Beyond the tracks, Ross enjoys singing in his local blues band, The Diamonds, who he’s been performing with for the last 20 years.
Music has always been important to Ross. Preforming in bands throughout his life, Blues has a special place in his heart.
Ross continues to conduct trains for the Alaska Railroad and is determined to reach 50 years of service with the company, a milestone never before reached in the Railroad’s history.
Take the Coastal Classic train to Seward and find Ross in his iconic conductor cap, suit and tie, or find him singing his heart out with the Diamonds at local Anchorage venues.