White Pass and Yukon Route

White Pass and Yukon Route

Infobox rail
logo_filename=White-Pass.pngrailroad_name=White Pass and Yukon Route
locale=Alaska, northern British Columbia, Yukon Territory
start_year=1898–1982, 1988
hq_city=Skagway, Alaska

The White Pass and Yukon Route (WP&Y, WP&YR) reporting mark|WPY is a Canadian and U.S. Class II narrow gauge railroad linking the port of Skagway, Alaska with Whitehorse, the capital of Canada's Yukon Territory. An isolated system, it has no direct connection to any other railroad. Equipment, freight and passengers are ferried by ship through the Port of Skagway, and via road through a few of the stops along its route. The railroad is subsidiary of Tri-White Corporation traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (T:TWH) and operated by the Pacific and Arctic Railway and Navigation Company (in Alaska), the British Columbia Yukon Railway Company (in British Columbia) and the British Yukon Railway Company, originally known as the British Yukon Mining, Trading and Transportation Company (in Yukon Territory), which use the trade name White Pass and Yukon Route.


The line was born of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. The most popular route taken by prospectors to the gold fields in Dawson City was a treacherous route from the nearest port in Skagway or nearby Dyea, Alaska across the mountains to the Canadian border at the summit of the Chilkoot Pass or the White Pass. There, the prospectors would not be allowed across by the Canadian authorities unless they had a full ton of supplies with them, which for most required several trips up and down the passes before entry to Canada could be obtained. There was a need for a better transportation scheme than the pack horses used over the White Pass or people's backs over the Chilkoot Pass. This need generated numerous railroad schemes. In 1897, the Canadian government received 32 proposals for Yukon railroads, most of which were never realized.

In 1897, three separate companies were organized to build a rail link from Skagway to Fort Selkirk, Yukon, 325 miles (523 km) away. Largely financed by British investors, a railroad was soon under construction. A 3-foot (914 mm) gauge was chosen; the narrower roadbed required by a narrow gauge railroad made for big cost savings when that roadbed had to be carved and blasted out of the mountain rock. Even so, 450 tons of explosives were used to reach White Pass summit. The narrow gauge also allowed for a tighter radius to be used on curves, making the task easier by allowing the railroad to follow the landscape more, rather than having to be blasted through it.

Construction started in May 1898, but they ran into some roadblocks in dealing with the local city government and the town's crime boss, Soapy Smith. The President, Samuel H. Graves (1852-1911), was elected as chairman of the vigilante organization that was trying to expel Soapy and his gang of confidence men and rogues. On the evening of July 8, 1898, Soapy Smith was killed in a gunfight with the guards at one of the vigilante's meetings. Samuel Graves witnessed the shooting. The railroad helped block off the escape routes of the gang, aiding in their capture, and the remaining roadblocks in Skagway subsided. On July 21, 1898, an excursion train hauled passengers for four miles (6.4 km) out of Skagway, the first train to operate in Alaska. On July 30, 1898, the charter rights and concessions of the three companies were acquired by the White Pass & Yukon Railway Company Limited, a new company organized in London. Construction reached the 2,885-foot (879 m) summit of White Pass, 20 miles (32 km) away from Skagway, by mid-February 1899. The railway reached Bennett, British Columbia on July 6, 1899. In the summer of 1899, construction started north from Carcross to Whitehorse, 110 miles (177 km) north of Skagway. The construction crews working from Bennett along a difficult lakeshore reached Carcross the next year, and the last spike was driven on July 29, 1900, with service starting on August 1, 1900. However, by then, much of the Gold Rush fever had died down.

At the time, the gold spike was actually a regular iron spike. A gold spike was on hand, but the gold was too soft and instead of being driven, was just hammered out of shape.

Operations before World War II

As the gold rush wound down, serious professional mining was taking its place; not so much for gold as for other metals such as copper, silver and lead. The closest port was Skagway, and the only route there was via the White Pass & Yukon Route's river boats and railroad.

While ores and concentrates formed the bulk of the traffic, the railroad also carried passenger traffic, and other freight. There was, for a long time, no easier way into the Yukon Territory, and no other way into or out of Skagway except by sea.

Financing and route was in place to extend the rails from Whitehorse to Carmacks, but there was chaos in the river transportation service, resulting in a bottleneck. The White Pass instead used the money to purchase most of the riverboats, providing a steady and reliable transportation system between Whitehorse and Dawson City.

While the WP&YR never built between Whitehorse and Fort Selkirk, some minor expansion of the railway occurred after 1900. In 1901, the Taku Tram, a 2½-mile (4 km) portage railroad was built at Taku City, British Columbia, which was operated until 1951. It carried passengers and freight between the S.S. "Tutshi" operating on Tagish Lake and the M.V. "Tarahne" operating across Atlin Lake to Atlin, British Columbia. (While the "Tutshi" was destroyed by a suspicious fire around 1990, the "Tarahne" was restored and hosts special dinners including murder mysteries. Lifeboats built for the "Tutshi"’s restoration were donated to the "Tarahne".) The Taku Tram could not even turn around, and simply backed up on its westbound run. The locomotive used, the "Duchess", is now in Carcross.

In 1910, the WP&YR operated a branch line to Pueblo, a mining area near Whitehorse. This branch line was abandoned in 1918; a haul-road follows that course today but is mostly barricaded; a "Whitehorse Star" editorial in the 1980s noted that this route would be an ideal alignment if the Alaska Highway should ever require a bypass reroute around Whitehorse.

While all other railroads in the Yukon (such as the Klondike Mines Railway at Dawson City) had been abandoned by 1914, the WP&YR continued to operate.

During the Great Depression, traffic was sparse on the WP&YR, and for a time trains operated as infrequently as once a week.

Operations during World War II

Alaska became strategically important for the United States; there was concern that the Japanese might invade it, as Alaska was the closest part of the United States to Japan. The U.S. Army took control, bringing some newly built and many used steam locomotives (such as the USATC S118 Class) brought from closed U.S. narrow gauge lines to the railroad.

There are two persistent myths that show up in almost every book or article which mentions the role of the White Pass & Yukon Route in the building of the Alcan Highway during the Second World War. The myths concern the eleven new 2-8-2 MacArthur type locomotives that the U.S. Army brought to theWP&YR in 1943. Myth #1 is that they were converted from RailGauge|meter gauge to RailGauge|3ft gauge by the WP&YR shops in Skagway, Alaska. Myth #2 is that they were built for Iran and diverted to the WP&YR.

These locomotives, designated USA 190 to USA 200, were constructed by Baldwin Locomotive Works as RailGauge|36 gauge and shipped fully assembled. No modification was needed. The MacArthur was designed by the American Locomotive Company for RailGauge|42in ("cape" gauge) and the smaller gauges were cleverly accommodated with various sized spacers in strategic locations on same length axles. In total, nearly 800 MacArthurs were produced by ALCO, Baldwin, and a few other manufacturers.

The reason USA 190–200 were never destined for "Iran" as it is often mistakenly stated in books relating WP&YR history, is that Iran's government railway was RailGauge|1435 standard gauge. Also, because of scarce water and extensive tunnels, Iran was the first case where the Army primarily used diesel locomotives. USATC narrow gauge locomotives were never destined for Iran.

The first locomotives of the MacArthur design that Baldwin Locomotive Works built were USA 190–200 for the WP&YR, which makes them unique. This initial 1942 sales order to Baldwin for 60 MacArthur meter gauge [39 3/8 inches] locomotives was for India's extensive meter gauge railway system. The first eleven were diverted to the WP&YR as 36-inch, the next 15 went to India as meter gauge, another 20 went to Queensland Ry as 42-inch, and the remaining 14 were meter gauge for India where the order was destined before the Alaskan and Australian diversions.cite book| title=United States Army Transportation Corps Locomotives |author=Tourret, Richard |publisher=Tourret Publishing |year=1977 |id=ISBN 0-905878-01-9] cite book| title=Railroading in Eighteen Countries |author=Gray, Carl R., Jr. |publisher=Charles Scribner’s Sons |year=1955 |id=LCCN 55-10490] [ [http://www.whitepassfan.net/whitepass/ White Pass & Yukon Route Fan Page. ] ]

The White Pass saw record volumes of traffic as it served as a vital supply route for construction materials for the new Alaska Highway and other projects. As many as 17 trains were operated daily. In one record period of 24 hours, 37 trains rolled into Whitehorse.


In 1951, the White Pass and Yukon Corporation Ltd., a new holding company, was incorporated to acquire the three railway companies comprising the WP&YR from the White Pass and Yukon Company, Ltd., which was in liquidation. The railway was financially restructured. While most other narrow gauge systems in North America were closing around this time, the WP&YR remained open.

The railroad dieselized in the mid to late 1950s, one of the few North American narrow gauge railroads to do so. The railroad bought shovelnose diesels from General Electric, and later road-switchers from American Locomotive Company (Alco) and Montreal Locomotive Works, as well as a few small switchers.

The railroad was an early pioneer of intermodal freight traffic, commonly called container; advertising of the time referred to it as the "Container Route". With custom-built container ships, railroad cars and truck trailers, the White Pass showed the benefits of intermodal transportation early – a single container, loaded in the Yukon Territory, could be transported anywhere in the world without needing to be opened and reloaded, whether transported by road, rail, or sea. The WP&YR owned the world's first container ship (the "Clifford J. Rogers", built in 1955), and in 1956 introduced containers.

The Faro lead-zinc mine opened in 1969. The railway was upgraded with seven new 1200 horsepower (890 kW) locomotives from the Alco, new freight cars, ore buckets, a "straddle carrier" at Whitehorse to transfer from the railway's new fleet of trucks, a new ore dock at Skagway, and assorted work on the rail line to improve alignment. In the fall of 1969, a new tunnel and bridge that bypassed Dead Horse Gulch were built to replace the tall steel cantilever bridge that could not carry the heavier trains. This enormous investment made the company dependent on continued ore traffic to earn the revenue, and left the railway vulnerable to loss of that ore-carrying business.

As well, passenger traffic on the WP&YR was increasing as cruise ships started to visit Alaska's Inside Passage. There was no road from Skagway to Whitehorse until 1978. Even after the road was built, the White Pass still survived on the ore traffic from the mines.

During this time, the green-yellow engine colour scheme, with a thunderbird on the front, was replaced with blue, patterned with black and white. (The green-yellow scheme was restored in the early 1990s, along with the thunderbird. As of 2005, however, one engine still has the blue colour scheme. The steam engines, however, remain basic black.)In 1982, metal prices plunged, striking with devastating effect on the mines that were the White Pass and Yukon Route's main customers. Many, including the Faro lead-zinc mine, closed down, and with that traffic gone, the White Pass was doomed as a commercial railroad. Hopeful of a reopening, the railway ran at a significant loss for several months, carrying only passengers. However, the railway closed down on October 7, 1982.

The Northwestel telephone directory issued for April 1, 1982, for Yukon and Northern British Columbia, carried on its cover (wraparound front and back) a photograph, provided by White Pass, of a White Pass train, led by Engine 98, traveling south through Bennett, an irony, as the trains were no longer running for more than half the time the directory was in use.

Some of the road's Alco diesels were sold to a railroad in Colombia, and three (out of four, and one of these was wrecked) of the newer Alco diesels built by and in storage with Alco's Canadian licensee MLW (Montreal Locomotive Works) were sold to US Gypsum in Plaster City, California. Only one of these modern narrow gauge diesels, the last narrow gauge diesel locomotives built for a North American customer, was delivered to the White Pass. The five diesels sold to Colombia were not used there as they were too heavy, and were re-acquired in 1999 – one was nearly lost at sea during a storm as it broke loose on the barge and slowly rolled towards the edge.

The railway was the focus of the first episode of the BBC television series "Great Little Railways" in 1983.

Revival, 1988-present

The shutdown, however, was not for long. Tourism to Alaska began to increase, with many cruise ships stopping at Skagway. The dramatic scenery of the White Pass route sounded like a great tourist draw; and the rails of the White Pass & Yukon Route were laid right down to the docks, even along them, for the former freight and cruise ship traffic. Cruise operators, remembering the attraction of the little mountain climbing trains to their passengers, pushed for a re-opening of the line as a heritage railway. The White Pass was and is perfectly positioned to sell a railroad ride through the mountains to cruise ship tourists; they do not even have to walk far.

Following a deal between White Pass and the United Transportation Union representing Alaska employees of the road, the White Pass Route was reopened between Skagway and White Pass in 1988 purely for tourist passenger traffic. The White Pass Route also bid on the ore-haul from the newly reopened Faro mine, but its price was considerably higher than road haulage over the Klondike Highway.

The railway still uses vintage parlor cars, the oldest four built in 1881 and predating WP&YR by 17 years, and four new cars built in 2007 follow the same 19th century design. At least three cars have wheelchair lifts.

A work train actually reached Whitehorse in late August, 1988, its intent being to haul two locomotives, parked in Whitehorse for six years, to Skagway to be overhauled and used on the tourist trains. While in Whitehorse for approximately one week, it hauled the parked rolling stock – flatcars, tankers and a caboose – out of the downtown area's sidings, and the following year, they were hauled further south, many eventually sold. Most of the tracks in downtown Whitehorse have now been torn up, and the line's terminus is six city blocks south of the old train depot at First Avenue and Main Street. A single new track along the waterfront enables the operation, by a local historical society, of a tram for tourist purposes.

After customs and Canadian labour union jurisdictional issues were resolved, the WP&YR main line reopened to Fraser in 1989, and Bennett in 1992. A train reached Carcross in 1997 to participate in the Ton of Gold centennial celebration. A special passenger run, by invitation only, was made from Carcross to Whitehorse on October 10, 1997, and there are plans to eventually re-open the entire line to Whitehorse if a market exists. So far, the tracks are only certified to Carcross by the Canadian Transportation Agency; on July 29, 2006, White Pass ran a train to Carcross and announced passenger service to begin in May 2007, six trains per week, with motorcoach return trips.

WP&YR acquired some rolling stock from CN's Newfoundland operations, which shut down in November 1988; the acquisition included 8 side-pivot, drop-side air dump cars for large rocks, and 8 longitudinal hoppers hoppers for ballast, still painted in CN orange. These cars were converted from Newfoundland's 1067 mm (3 feet, 6 inches) gauge to White Pass and Yukon Route's 914 mm (3 feet) gauge.

Most trains are hauled by the line's diesel locomotives, painted in green (lower) and yellow (upper), but one of the line's original steam locomotives is still in operation too, #73, a 2-8-2 Mikado-type locomotive. Another steam locomotive, #40 a 2-8-0 Consolidation type locomotive was on loan from the Georgetown Loop R.R. in Colorado for upwards of 5 years, but was returned after only 2 years. Former WP&Y 69, a 2-8-0, was re-acquired in 2001, rebuilt, and re-entered service in 2008.

Also operational, a few times a year, is an original steam-powered rotary snowplow, an essential device in the line's commercial service days. (The rotaries were retired in 1964, along with the remaining steam engines that pushed them, and snow clearing was done by caterpillar tractor.) While it is not needed as the tourist season is only in the summer months, it is a spectacle in operation, though, and the White Pass runs the steam plow for railfan groups once or twice a winter, pushed by two diesel locomotives (in 2000 only, it was pushed by two steam locomotives, #73 and #40).

The centennial of the Golden Spike at Carcross was reenacted on July 29, 2000, complete with two steam engines meeting nose-to-nose (#73 and #40), and a gold-coated steel spike being driven by a descendant of WP&YR contractor Michael James Heney.

One organization chartered a steam-pulled train from Carcross to Fraser, with a stopover at Bennett, on Friday, June 24, 2005. When expected participants seemed unlikely to arrive in the planned numbers, surplus seats were sold to the public, 120 USD or 156 CAD, with bus return to Carcross from Fraser. This represents the first paid passenger trips out of Carcross since 1982, a feature that will be regular starting in 2007.

White Pass president Gary Danielsen advised a CBC Radio interviewer that service to Whitehorse would require an enormous capital investment to restore the tracks, but the company is willing if there is either a passenger or freight potential to make it cost effective.

A June 2006 report on connecting Alaska to the continental railroad network suggested Carmacks as a hub, with a branch line to Whitehorse and beyond to either Skagway or Haines.

In addition to the restoration of the actual rail line, several former White Pass steam locomotives are currently in operation at tourist attractions in the Southeastern United States. Locomotives 70, 71, and 192 are at the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Locomotive 190 is at Tweetsie Railroad in Boone, North Carolina.


A serious derailment on September 3, 2006, resulted in the death of one section worker. [ [http://www.skagwaynews.com/090806stories.html Engine 114 accident] .] A work train, Engine 114 pulling eight gravel cars, derailed approximately three miles (4.8 km) south of Bennett, injuring all four train crew, two Canadian and two American; one died at the scene; the others were airlifted to hospital and are stable; the engine remained on its side at the scene. Passenger operations on the blocked section had ended for the season just before the accident.

As of February 2007, Engine 114 is now being repaired at Coast Engine and Equipment Company (CEECO) in Tacoma, Washington.

team Locomotives

[http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/passim "Passim"] , [http://www.whitepassrailroad.com/company/diesellocomotives.html White Pass Company Diesel Roster] (2008).]

Passenger Cars

[http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/passim "Passim"] , [http://www.whitepassrailroad.com/company/coaches.html White Pass Company Coach Roster] (2008).] [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/passim "Passim"] , cite book| title=White Pass & Yukon Route Handbook |author=Mulvihill, Carl E. |publisher=R. Robb, Ltd |year=2000 |id=ASIN B000AXW0IW, at pp. 80-85.]

"Ex-Columbia & Puget Sound R.R. Cars": In addition to a combine and a baggage car, the White Pass obtained five coaches from the C.&P.S. R.R. Of those five coaches, W.P.&Y.R. #210 probably came to the C.&P.S. R.R. from the Walla Walla & Columbia River R.R. in 1881. W.P.&Y.R. 1st #206 probably was purchased new by the C.&P.S. R.R. in 1887. Regarding the remaining three coaches, the C.&P.S. R.R. appears to have inherited two of them from the Seattle & Walla Walla R.R. in 1880. The C.&P.S. R.R. appears to have inherited the remaining coach from the Olympia & Chehalis Valley R.R. in 1891.Poor, Henry V. and Henry W. Poor (years 1878-1893). "Poor’s Manual of Railroads." H.V. and H.W. Poor Co.; Columbia & Puget Sound R.R. Equipment Roster, Dec. 8, 1889, [http://www.lib.washington.edu/SpecialColl/findaids/docs/papersrecords/OregonImprovementCompany0249.xml Oregon Improvement Co. Records 1880-1935] , Special Collections Div., University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington.] However, there is no clue as to how the latter three coaches may correspond to W.P.&Y.R. ##1st 204, 1st 208, and 212.

"Oldest Operating Rolling Stock": The oldest rolling stock still operating on the White Pass is not specifically identifiable, except that it consists of two or three unspecified passenger cars among ##218, 220, 222, and 224. The build date for those two or three unspecified cars is July 1881. Three coaches were built for the Stony Clove & Catskill Mountain R.R. in July 1881. Two coaches were built for the Kaaterskill R.R. in July 1883. (The Kaaterskill R.R. was a connecting subsidiary of the S.C.&C.M. R.R. All of these coaches operated over both lines on the route between Phoenicia and South Lake, New York.) All five of these coaches were sold to F.M. Hicks & Co. in 1900. Four of the five coaches were purchased by the White Pass in 1901, becoming ##218, 220, 222, and 224. But, the correspondence of any individual car to either build date, and the correspondence of any individual car to either prior owner, are currently unknown. [http://www.tc.gov.yk.ca/digitization/public/search_detail.php?imageId=39253 Click for Configuration When Delivered to the White Pass - Before Rebuilding.] "Also reproduced at", cite book| title=Alaska/Yukon Railroads |author=Clifford, Howard |publisher=Oso Publishing Co |year=1999 |id=ISBN 0-9647521-4-X at page 28.]

elected Other Rolling Stock


General references

* Cite book
author=Martin, Cy
title=Gold Rush Narrow Gauge
location= Corona del Mar, California | publisher=Trans-Anglo Books
id=ISBN 0-87046-026-9

*Cite web
title=Connection and Route
publisher=White Pass and Yukon Route, United States Library of Congress
:*Cite web
title=Connection and Route map
publisher=White Pass and Yukon Route, United States Library of Congress
:*Cite web
title=Map narrative text
publisher=White Pass and Yukon Route, United States Library of Congress

ee also

* List of heritage railways in Canada
* List of heritage railways in the United States
* List of narrow gauge railways in British Columbia

External links

* [http://whitepassrailroad.com Official company website]
* [http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4371p.mfr00031 Historic WP&Y route map]
* [http://whitepassfan.net A WP&YR friend and fan web site by Boerries Burkhardt]

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