1988 - today The Rebirth

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. Since the distance between Skagway and Whitehorse is 107 miles (172 km), and the distance of line between Skagway & Carcross is 62 miles (100 km), this means that about 58% of the original line is now used again.

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 for ballast, still painted in CN orange. These cars were converted from Newfoundland's 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge to White Pass and Yukon Route's 914 mm (3 ft) 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 started regular service 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.

Service Interruption

White Pass Announces Service Interruption
between Fraser BC and Carcross Yukon

SKAGWAY, AK – A major washout of the White Pass railbed at MilePost 37, located between Log Cabin and Bennett BC, has delayed the start of scheduled rail service to Carcross.
Passenger rail service between Fraser BC and Carcross Yukon, scheduled to start Friday May 22, will be suspended until further notice. Passengers booked for travel during the suspension period are being accommodated with a combination of rail and motorcoach service.
Gary C. Danielson, President of the White Pass says, “This is a very challenging situation, but we are confident that together with our partners, we will be able to adapt and still provide a memorable experience to our visitors.”
“As soon as we are able to restore the line, we will resume service. However, in the short term, we are exploring options to provide day trips from Carcross into Bennett.”
“The beauty and history of the Southern Lakes District is a unique experience that has been well received by the cruise lines and independent travelers. WP&YR’s historic eating house at Lake Bennett, and Parks Canada’s Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site are iconic elements of this experience. We’ll get through the challenge of this major washout and consider developing a new product in the interim”, Gary concluded.
The White Pass & Yukon Route narrow gauge railway was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush and is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark – a designation shared with icons like the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The WP&YR is Alaska’s most popular shore excursion and North America’s busiest tourist railroad, carrying 437,660 passengers in 2008.
White Pass & Yukon Route is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tri-White Corporation based in Toronto, Ontario. The Tri-White Corporation is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange as TWH.

Garry C. Danielson

Garry C. Danielson, President -2010

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