The WP&YR is a narrow, 3-foot gauge railway that connected the port of Skagway Alaska and Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon. It is the most heavily used tourist railroad in existence today and carries over 400,000 passengers each year during the May until October season. The railroad is isolated and not connected to any other system. The original line was over 110 miles in length but the most commonly used section today is the first 40 miles between Skagway and Bennett Station, although plans are to add some excursions to Carcross, Yukon. Originally the intention was to link Skagway at the northernmost end of the Inside Passage to the gold mining districts of the Klondike. British investment was secured and construction was started in 1898 and finished in July 1900. Three companies managed the railroad known as the WP&YR:
– The Pacific & Arctic Railway from Skagway to the British Columbia border near White Pass.
– The BC-Yukon Railway from White Pass to the BC Yukon border near Pennington.
– The British Yukon Railroad to Whitehorse.
Traffic on the WP&YR dropped significantly after the gold rush with the severe decline in the population of the Yukon Territories. Tourist trade saved the WP&YR as they began promoting recreational travel off the steamships that stopped in Skagway. The Second World War brought about the need to build the Alaska Highway linking Alaska through the Yukon and BC to the lower 48 states. The WP&YR was the best way to move supplies to the highway site. The US Army leased the railroad from 1942 to 1946 and ran multiple daily supply trains during that period. After the war, increased mining activities in the Yukon maintained the rail traffic to 1982. Numerous spur lines were opened and closed to mines in the district. The WP&YR pioneered some of the first transshipment of containers from ships to rail during the post-war period. In 1982 extremely depressed metal prices forced the mines to close and the railroad shut down in October, 1982. However by 1988 increased cruise ship traffic to Skagway prompted the WP&YR to reopen in 1988 and traffic has increased every year.
The WP&YR rolling stock consists of approximately 20 diesel-electric locomotives, 2 steam engines and 70 antique and replica parlor car type coaches. 11 diesel-electric locomotives are ALCO 251A’s built by GE between 1954 and 1966, and 9 are ALCO 251D’s built by ALCO between 1969 and 1982. The two steam locomotives are Engine #73 which is a fully restored 1947 Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado class unit and recently rebuilt Engine #69 which is a Baldwin 2-8-0 steam locomotive originally built for WP&YR in 1907. The parlor cars are antique or replicas of antique coaches with an average age of 50 years and with an average of approximately 40 seats per carriage. The parlor cars are named after lakes and rivers in Alaska, Yukon and BC and the oldest car is Lake Emerald which was built in 1883.