Alaska Railroad Plans $137M Effort to Replace Seward Dock

Seward Marine Industrial Center. City of Seward.

Alaska Railroad Corp. (ARRC) has plans in the works for a new dock at Seward, to accommodate all classes of cruise vessels, as well as potential winter cargo shipments, in coordination with ARRC’s adjacent freight dock.

The projected grand opening of the $137 million project, announced in April, is the spring of 2026.

The dock would accommodate electrification to allow for shore power on both sides of the pier—a new feature to meet future regulations and objectives for low-emission solutions, ARRC officials said.

The new infrastructure, proposed by a local developer, the Seward Company, would replace the existing dock, built in 1965.

ARRC officials noted that the project timeline requires that they receive bond authorization before the current legislative session in Juneau concludes, so the developer can break ground in the fall of 2025 to be ready with the new facility for the 2026 summer season.

ARRC President and CEO Bill O’Leary described the dock as a vital piece of Alaska’s transportation infrastructure, not just for Seward, but for the state’s visitor industry across Alaska’s Southeast, Southcentral regions and the interior.

“As maintenance becomes more challenging, it’s imperative we replace the old dock,” he said. “This new, state-of-the art infrastructure will serve Alaskans for the next 50 years.”

In 2023, 87 ships called on the dock, Seward’s only cruise port. The calls included 188,000 passengers traveling on a cross-gulf itinerary, linking Seward with multiple ports of call in Southeast Alaska and Vancouver, Canada.

Many travelers aboard these cruise vessels extend their time in Alaska by touring in and around the Kenai Peninsula or traveling to Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Denali National Park, Fairbanks or other destinations.

That travel spending resulted in over $5.6 billion in total economic impact from 2022-2023, Alaska Railroad officials said.

ARRC has received an offer for the proposed replacement dock from the Seward Company, which worked with the Royal Caribbean Group cruise line to develop plans for the dock. The new 748-foot dock would be the most robust floating double-berth pier in the state, officials say.

Designed as a turn-port, the double-barge hull features a concrete deck with space to embark passengers while simultaneously supporting efficient provisioning.

The modernized facility would be able to accommodate all classes of cruise ships operating in Alaska, according to Alaska Railroad Corp.

The infrastructure would also include a new 60,000 square foot terminal building, featuring an open floor plan designed for safe, efficient boarding. Checked-in and transiting travelers will be able to exit and reboard the ships, making Seward more accessible to cruise travelers.

In winter months the workstations and dividing walls of the terminal could be moved, making the new facility the largest flex-space in the region.

“We are excited about the revitalization of this infrastructure and Royal Caribbean’s long-term commitment to Seward as a premier destination,” Seward Mayor Sue McClure said.

ARRC said that it plans to finance the new dock and terminal facility primarily through bonds. While ARRC must get authorization to issue bonds from the Alaska Legislature, the debt is solely an obligation of the railroad, not the state.

The bond debt is to be secured via a planned 30-year agreement with Royal Caribbean.

According to Preston Carnahan, regional vice president for Royal Caribbean Group, his company remains strongly committed to the future of Seward and the state of Alaska.

Along with Royal Caribbean, several other cruise lines are currently calling on Seward.

O’Leary said it’s the railroad corporation’s expectation that the new passenger dock would serve current customers while also attracting new cruise lines to Seward.