ARRC Seeks to Replace Seward Passenger Dock

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Rendering Courtesy of The Seward Company

Rendering Courtesy of The Seward Company

The Alaska Railroad (ARRC) on April 15 announced that it is seeking to replace the passenger dock and terminal building in Seward, Alaska, with the purchase of a $137 million project proposed by local developer The Seward Company.

According to ARRC, the existing dock, which has been owned and operated by ARRC since it was built in 1965, is aging past its usual lifespan. ARRC received a proposal to replace the dock from The Seward Company, which worked with Royal Caribbean Group to develop plans for the proposed dock. The new 748-foot dock, ARRC says, will be “the most robust floating double-berth pier in Alaska.”

“Designed as a turn-port for Royal Caribbean’s ships, the double-barge haul features a concrete deck with ample space to safely embark passengers while simultaneously supporting efficient provisioning,” according to ARRC. “By designing for Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class specifications, the modernized facility can easily accommodate all classes of cruise vessels sailing in the Alaska market, as well as potential winter cargo shipments in coordination with ARRC’s adjacent freight dock. The dock will also accommodate electrification to allow for shore power on both sides of the pier—an important new feature to meet future regulations and objectives for low emission solutions.” 

According to ARRC, the proposal also includes a new 60,000-square-foot terminal building, featuring an innovative open floor plan designed for safe and efficient boarding. “Checked-in and transiting guests will be able to easily exit and reboard the ship, making Seward more accessible to cruise visitors during their time in port,” ARRC said. “During the winter months, the workstations and dividing walls of the terminal can be moved, making the new facility the largest flex-space in the region.” The proposed grand opening of the new dock is scheduled for spring of 2026.

Rendering Courtesy of The Seward Company

“This dock is a vital piece of Alaska’s transportation infrastructure, not just for the community of Seward, but for Alaska’s visitor industry across Southeast, Southcentral, and the Interior,” said ARRC President and CEO Bill O’Leary. “As maintenance becomes more challenging, it’s imperative we replace the old dock. This new, state-of-the-art infrastructure will serve Alaskans for the next fifty years.”

According to ARRC, last year, 87 ships called on the dock, Seward’s only cruise port. The calls represented 188,000 passengers traveling on a cross-gulf itinerary, linking Seward with multiple ports of call in Southeast Alaska and Vancouver, Canada. Many of these cruise guests extend their time in the state by touring in and around the Kenai Peninsula or onward to Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Denali, Fairbanks or other destinations. The travel industry, ARRC says, has been a bright spot in Alaska’s economic landscape drawing more than $5.6 billion in total economic impact attributed to the industry from 2022-23.

ARRC says it plans to purchase the new dock and terminal facility primarily through bonding. While ARRC must receive authorization from the legislature to issue bonds, the debt is solely an obligation of the railroad and not that of the state. In this case, the bond debt will be secured by a long-term agreement with Royal Caribbean Group—a 30-year contract emphasizing the cruise line’s investment in Seward.

Rendering Courtesy of The Seward Company

“Royal Caribbean Group remains strongly committed to the future of Seward and the State of Alaska,” said Preston Carnahan, Regional Vice President for Royal Caribbean Group. “Our proposal, along with The Seward Company, will be the state’s largest homeport agreement featuring an unprecedented 30-year Revenue Agreement to the port. We are excited to continue to collaborate with the Alaska Railroad and watch as Seward energizes opportunity across Alaska.”

In addition to Royal Caribbean Group, several other cruise lines currently call on Seward. “It’s our hope and expectation that the new passenger dock will serve our current customers while attracting new cruise lines to Seward as well,” said O’Leary. The railroad plays a key role in transporting passengers to and from Seward in the summer months, operating the daily Coastal Classic Train route from ARRC’s downtown Anchorage Depot, as well as regular chartered rail transfers between the Anchorage Airport Depot and the Seward passenger dock.

The project timeline, ARRC says, requires that the railroad receives bond authorization before the close of this legislative session, enabling the developer to break ground in fall 2025 to be ready with the new facility for the 2026 summer season.

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