The White Pass & Yukon Route
The narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, located in Alaska,
is the busiest tourist railroad in the country, even more popular than
the legendary Strasburg Railroad, due to the line’s spectacular scenery
and limitless supply of tourists aboard cruise ships that dock at
Skagway. While the WP&YR today is a very successful tourist
railroad its heritage lies as a freight hauler, once serving several ore
mines located between Skagway, Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada
(which is another unique feature of the railroad, its lines are split
with half operated in the United States and the other half in Canada).
While the Alaska Railroad offers some spectacular scenery of its own few train rides anywhere in the world offer such stunning scenery as the WP&YR.
|WP&YR RSD39 #103, built by the Montreal Locomotive Works in May of 1969, rests in Skagway on May 2, 2009.|
The White Pass and Yukon
Route Railroad dates back to 1898 and the Klondike Gold Rush. Needing a
better means of moving men and material through the extremely rugged
regions of northern Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory (via the White and Chilkoot Passes), a railroad was chartered (the White Pass & Yukon Railway Company) and construction began later in 1898. By July 29, 1900 the WP&Y had built a 110-mile line between the Alaska port of Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory (with the important town of Carcross located about half-way along the line).
Skagway was ultimately chosen as the southern terminus of the line due
to its port, which allowed for an easier transportation of men and
material in and out of the area. As the first railroad constructed in
Alaska, the WP&YR did help to open new routes of transportation even
if it did not serve the state's largest cities (such a railroad would
arrive soon, however, in what is now known as the Alaska Railroad).
The initial purpose of building the White Pass & Yukon was for the
Klondike Gold Rush as thousands of prospectors flocked to the Yukon
hoping to strike it rich. However, before the railroad even officially
opened the rush was over by 1899 after news of new deposits were discovered near Nome.
|A pair of White Pass Shovelnose diesels, #96 and #94, at the yard in Skagway on May 2, 2009.|
Despite this setback the WP&YR found other ways to remain
profitable, namely via the movement of minerals and ores from the region
as mines sprang up to harvest rich seems of copper, silver, and other
metals. In general, this type of traffic sustained the railroad
throughout the rest of its days as a freight carrier although it did see
a brief spike in traffic during the building of the Alaska Highway and
during World War I and II. In the early 1950s the WP&YR began upgrading its locomotive fleet to diesels purchasing from both General Electric and the Montreal Locomotive Works (the American Locomotive Company's Canadian division) unique narrow-gauge designs (notably GE's rare Shovelnose model).
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is today, one of two operating railroads in Alaska (the other being the famous Alaska
Railroad), although it is purely for tourism after freight service
ended in 1982 after the final mine in the region closed that year, which
then forced the railroad to cease operations. It reopened in 1988 as a
40-mile tourist line and has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Today
it is the nation’s busiest tourist railroad, seeing over 400,000 riders
annually, thanks in part to the thousands of yearly passengers it
receives from cruise ships that literally dock right next to the rails.
Aside from the tremendous scenery afforded during trips, another draw
of the WP&YR is that it uses eleven unique shovelnose diesels,
built by General Electric between 1954 and 1966 and the railroad also
operates two Baldwin steamers, a Mikado 2-8-2, and a 2-8-0 type. The
railroad has grown so much over the last twenty years that in 2007 it
reopened 27 more miles of the original line, north to Carcross in the Yukon.
If it is at all possible the railroad would eventually like to reopen
the entire line all of the way to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. In doing
so it may also enable the company to restore freight service with mines
slated to reopen in the area.
|Two White Pass & Yukon Shovelnose diesels and RSD39 #101 rest next to the engine house in Skagway on May 2, 2009.|
Today, the WP&YR hosts several different excursions for passengers using both steam, as well as diesel locomotives all of which are original to the railroad. Its operational steam locomotives include 2-8-0 #69 and 2-8-2 #73 as well as 2-6-0 #52, which is currently under restoration (interestingly, several former WP&YR steamers are buried in the Skagway River). Additionally, it still retains nearly all of its original diesel fleet although they have plans to sell three of their MLW DL535Es. For more information about the White Pass & Yukon Route's diesel locomotive roster please click here. Finally, for more information about riding the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad or to just learn more about the railroad please click here to visit their website. There you find out more about all of their current services, when the trains run, how to reach the railroad, and much more.
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