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The Railway Age - September 2, 1898

The First Railway to the Alaska Gold Fields

Map of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway, 1898     The accompanying illustrations show that railway building is a reality in Alaska - and a reality involving some difficulties. The engravings are from photographs taken along the route of the White Pass & Yukon railway. The road is being built from Skagway, Alaska, via the White Pass to Fort Selkirk, N. W. T., a distance of 350 miles. Already 12 miles of track are laid, and it is expected to have the road in operation from Skagway to the summit of White Pass at the international line, 20 miles, by September 20. The company was given right of way along the principal business street of Skagway; and from 3 miles north of that point to the summit the work has been almost entirely rock cut. At Porcupine Hill, 7 miles from Skagway, which has been one of the most trying points for packers on account of the steep climb, it was necessary to make a 16-foot open cut through solid rock. A large amount of blasting has been necessary, and by the time the summit is reached there will have been consumed about 250 tons of dynamite, Judson and black blasting powder. Beyond the summit the route has not been definitely selected, although two lines have been surveyed. There will be but one tunnel on the line, and it will be 500 feet in length. The heaviest grade is 3.9 per cent, and it is obtained without a switchback.

    The road, which is narrow (3 feet) gauge and laid with 56-pound rails, is already in operation for freight traffic, two locomotives and eight flat cars being in service, and there have been shipped from Seattle three more locomotives, ten flat cars, one baggage car, one combination baggage and passenger car, and one passenger coach. These will be placed in service as soon as they reach Skagway. In addition to this rolling stock there are being built at Seattle 30 box cars and 20 flat cars, one each of which will be set up complete and shipped to Skagway, the rest to be framed and shipped in a "knocked down" condition. The trucks will be shipped complete ready to be placed under the cars as soon as they are set up. These cars will reach Skagway before the completion of the line to the summit.

    Some difficulty has been encountered in obtaining gravel for surfacing the roadbed and it has been found necessary to gather part of it from the bed of the Skagway river. Beyond the summit, however, there are large deposits of very fine gravel. The work is light beyond the summit, being through gravel and sand most of the way, with light rock work here and there. Work is just beginning on this part of the line and will be pushed until cold weather forces a suspension of operations.

Building the White Pass & Yukon Railway, 1898

    In regard to the operation of the road during the winter, the chief engineer says, "We expect to operate the road during the winter months, and, like all other railroad companies which have their lines on the mountain sides, we will depend on snow plows to keep the track clear. We do not expect to encounter much difficulty in the movement of trains on account of snow slides, as there are less slides from the mountains on either side of the Skagway valley than from mountains in close proximity to many of the United States overland railroads. However, we intend to erect snow sheds at many points on the road, so that the snow, when it does slide, will pass over the sheds, which will be erected with a decided incline, and in this way we will be afforded adequate protection."

    The company has made arrangements with packers to carry freight from the end of the line on through the pass to the lakes, where it meets steamboat navigation.

    The road is being built under three charters - that of the Pacific & Arctic Railway & Navigation company, obtained in the United States, the British Columbia-Yukon Railway company, obtained in British Columbia, and the British-Yukon Railway company obtained of the Dominion government. The stock is all owned by the White Pass & Yukon, which is the parent company, however, and the road will be operated under that name.

    Mr. S. H. Graves, of Close Bros. & Co. of Chicago, is president of the company; E. C. Hawkins, formerly of Denver, is chief engineer and superintendent; John Hislop is assistant chief engineer, and F. H. Whiting, division engineer and superintendent of the first division. The present headquarters of the company are at Seattle, Wash., and E. B. Hussey is in charge of the office in that city.

Building the White Pass & Yukon Railway, 1898

Building the White Pass & Yukon Railway, 1898


This article has been reproduced as originally published. Photo quality is poor, however, as they are scans of photocopies of photocopies. Clicking on the map will open a much larger, legible, image in a new window.

Although the article states that the intention was to build the railway to "Fort Selkirk, N. W. T.", it never went beyond Whitehorse. Fort Selkirk by that time was in the newly-created Yukon Territory, separated from the Northwest Territories by the House of Commons and the Senate on June 13, 1898.

Judson powder is a granular dynamite, a class that can be considered as the connecting link between blasting powder and dynamite.

"The Railway Age" had another article about the progress of the railway in their November 11, 1898 issue.