White Pass & Yukon Route

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WP&Y logfo The White Pass & Yukon Route ( WP&Y)was a railway running from Skagway, Alaska, through northern British Columbia to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, 111 miles. Built in 1898 -1900 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The WP&YR railway was considered an impossible task but it was literally blasted through coastal mountains in only 26 months. The $10 million project was the product of

WP&Y cover
White Pass & Yukon Route
October 26, 1952
British financing, American engineering and Canadian contracting. Tens of thousands of men and 450 tons of explosives overcame harsh and challenging climate and geography to create the railway of gold. The WP&YR climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%, cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles. The steel cantilever bridge was the tallest of its kind in the world when it was constructed in 1901. 450 tons of explosives overcame harsh and challenging climate and geography to create "the railway built of gold." About the time of completion, the gold rush had ended so the WP&Y began to serve copper, lead and silver mines, and also provided a commercial link to Dawson City through its river boats extending from Whitehorse. When steamships began bringing tourists to Skagway, the WP&Y provided tourist passenger services to Whitehorse. This service peaked by the early 30's, but the depression, reduction in mine output and the auto and truck roads built in the 40's and 50's caused a temporary reduction in traffic. Renewed mining helped for a while but then collapsed and the WP&Y closed in 1982. Rejuvenated as a tourist line in 1988 the WP&Y is gradually restoring the line from Skagway and is aiming to get back to tourist runs to Whitehorse.

Brief History of the White Pass & 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.
1897 - Three separate companies were organized to build a rail link from Skagway to Fort Selkirk, Yukon, 325 miles.
1898 - In May, largely financed by British investors,, a narrow gauge railroad was under construction from Skagway toward White Pass.
1898 - From May to July gang warfare raged in Skagway until the gang was run out of town.
1898 - On July 21, an excursion train hauled passengers for four miles out of Skagway, the first train to operate in Alaska.
1898 - 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.
1899 - In February, construction reached the 2,885-foot summit of White Pass, 20 miles away from Skagway.
1899 - On July 6, the WP&Y reached Bennett, British Columbia, 41 miles.
1899 - . In the summer of 1899, construction started north from Carcross to Whitehorse, 111 miles north of Skagway.
1899 - Om July 27 the construction crews working from Bennett along a difficult lakeshore reached Carcross and the last spike was driven.
1900 - Service started on August 1, 1900. However, by then, much of the Gold Rush fever had died down.
post 1900 - 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.
post 1900 -The WP&Y chose to buy and operate river boats to reach Dawson City rather than expanding the railroad beyond Whitehorse.
1901 - The WP&Y built the Taku Tram, a 2-mile 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.
1910 - The WP&Y operated a branch line to Pueblo, a mining area near Whitehorse.
1914 - 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.
1918 - The branch line to Peulo was abandoned
1931 - The WP&Y operated 20 weekly passenger train movements between Skagway and Whitehorse, amounting to an average of about a train and 1/2 per day each way. The tourist trade from cruise ships was the major factor.
1930's - During the Great Depression, traffic was sparse on the WP&Y, and for a time trains operated as infrequently as once a week.
1940\s - Operations during World War II in Alaska became strategically important for the United States. There was concern that the Japanese might invade 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 WP&Y.
1942-43 - 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.
1951 - The White Pass and Yukon Corporation Ltd., a new holding company, was incorporated to acquire the three railway companies comprising the WP&Y 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.
1952 - WP&Y passenger train service was down to two mixed trains per week between Skagway and Whitehorse.
late 1950's -- WP&Y is dieselized.
1955-56 - The WP&Y owned the world's first container ship (the Clifford J. Rogers, built in 1955), and in 1956 introduced containers.
1969 - The Faro lead-zinc mine opened and new diesels installed.
1970's - WP&Y does well with mine traffic and increasing cruise ships bringing passenger traffic to Skagway, even though a road to Whitehorse was built in 1978.
1982 - Mining traffic ends and WP&Y closes down on October 7.
1983 - The railway was the focus of the first episode of the BBC television series Great Little Railways.
1988 - 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
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.
1989 - Main line reopened to Fraser, 28 mile.
1992 - Line reopened to Bennett, 40 miles.
1997 - Line opened to Carcross, 67.5 miles.
2007 - Plans for six trains per week to Carcross with bus returns. Plans are to eventually reopen to Whitehorse.
2007 - The railway still uses vintage parlor cars, the oldest four built in 1881 and predating WP&Y by 17 years, and four new cars built in 2007 follow the same 19th century design. At least three cars have wheelchair lifts.
2010 - In late June, the railroad and the City of Skagway entered into an agreement whereby the two would jointly advocate for the restoration of freight service on the line, including the revival of the trackage north of Carcross and the possibility of constructing new track north to Carmacks. The expansion would require federal funds, and if completed, would serve the region's mining industry.

White Pass & Yukon - October 36, 1952

WP&Y map
White Pass & Yukon

Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- various editions
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad


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Web Page Written and Maintained by Richard Parks
Copyright Richard Parks, May 2, 2009, revised November 28, 2011