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Yukon Rail Study, 1975

A Study of railway expansion alternatives in the Yukon
Territory based on traffic requirements to the year 2004.

Summary Report

Prepared by:
Canalog Logistics Limited
Canadian Pacific Consulting Services Ltd.

The Ministry of Transport
The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs
The Government of the Yukon Territory

December 1975

    On this page at RailsNorth, we are posting some of the most interesting facts, figures, and maps from the 60-page report - text in Times New Roman font is quoted directly from the report. The entire report can be downloaded from our public Dropbox folder (pdf, 54MB).

This report presents a synthesis of the traffic forecasts, rail construction costs, and total distribution costs associated with a number of alternative developments of the existing Yukon rail facilities, which might be used to improve transportation of freight to and from the Yukon.

Four basic rail route options within the Yukon have been examined. A fifth option dealing with a proposed link to Alaska is considered separately. Three of the above four options relate to northward extension of the existing narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon rail line beyond Whitehorse; the fourth option represents a connection to the continental rail system at Watson Lake, Y.T., in anticipation of eventual extension of the British Columbia Railway north from Dease Lake, B.C.

The total area of the Yukon is 207,076 square miles. The population as of 1974 was approximately 21,000, more than half of whom live in the capital city of Whitehorse.

The sole railway in the Yukon is the White Pass and Yukon Route connecting Whitehorse with skagway, Alaska. This narrow gauge line was built during the gold-rush days just prior to the turn of the century. It currently handles about 800,000 tons of freight traffic annually. The White Pass and Yukon Corporation also operates a four-inch petroleum products pipeline which parallels the rail line.


The Yukon highway network is made up of a number of trunk routes, secondary trunk routes and "pioneer roads", the latter open, as a rule, only during the summer months.

Stretching across the southern limits of the Yukon from Watson Lake to Whitehorse and through to the Alaska border near Beaver Creek is the Alaska Highway. A branch at Haines Junction, known as the Haines Road, connects southward to Haines, Alaska.

Work is continuing on the Dempster Highway in the northern Yukon, which is expected to connect through to Inuvik in the Mackenzie River Delta by the year 1980. Work is also progressing on the planned connection from Skagway to the Yukon - British Columbia border.

Broadly speaking, the road surfaces of the Yukon Territory are gravel, with only limited stretches of paved road in the Whitehorse area.

Mining Industry

The mining industry is the largest single commercial employer and the greatest source of revenue in the Yukon Territory. Value of mineral production was $145 million in 1973, an increase of 36.4% over 1972 and 10 times that of 1963.

There are five producing mines in operation in the Yukon, one in British Columbia and one in the Northwest Territories that impact directly on transportation requirements within the Yukon.

The forecasts shown are exclusive of traffic that might originate from the Snake River iron ore deposits, and the Bonnet Plume lead-zinc deposits. Both of these areas represent resource potential for future development. but there is no indication as to either the time frame of such development or the volumes of mineral traffic that might emerge.

The proposed Yukon smelting operation could be a combined zinc-lead complex, a separate electrolytic zinc plant, or a separate electric lead smelter and refinery. The locations considered suitable for the proposed smelter complex are Little Salmon and Ross River.

A smelter development in the Yukon based on the upper limit production levels would provide direct employment for 782 people and could give rise to an industry based community with a population of between about 3,000 and 5,000.

Forest Industry

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs estimates that 15.7 million acres of forest land exists in eleven forest management units throughout central and southern Yukon. In 1974, 10 million board feet of lumber and 500,000 linear feet of round timber was produced in the Yukon. Forestry development in the Yukon will not materialize prior to establishment of an improved transportation facility. The principal centres of development would be in the areas of Carmacks and Watson Lake respectively, with a possible pulp mill and sawmill at each.

4.0 Rail Route Options

The rail routes examined as part of this study include the following:

  • A) A narrow gauge rail extension from the existing White Pass and Yukon rail line at Whitehorse northward to a rail head at Little Salmon. Rail route miles, Little Salmon to Skagway - 213.7 miles.

    Two routes to the Carmacks area were considered. One route terminates at Carmacks on the Yukon River, the other in the vicinity of the abandoned Little Salmon Village. The route to Carmacks was dropped by the Consultants as an attractive option having regard to the additional length and cost of this route and the additional truck or rail haul from the Anvil mining district compared to Little Salmon.

  • B) A narrow gauge rail extension from the existing rail line at Whitehorse as above through to Little Salmon and eastward to a rail terminal in the vicinity of Faro, designated as Pelly River Terminal. Rail route miles, Pelly River Terminal to Skagway - 299.7 miles.

  • C) A narrow gauge rail extension direct from Whitehorse to Pelly River Terminal known as the Big Salmon route. Rail route miles, Pelly River Terminal to Skagway - 273.7 miles.
Options A, B and C involve connection to the existing White Pass and Yukon Route and provide for through movement of mineral products from Little Salmon and from Pelly River Terminal through to the Alaska port of Skagway.
  • D) A standard gauge rail line from Pelly River Terminal eastward and south to Watson Lake in anticipation of a rail connection with the British Columbia railway extended northward from Dease Lake. The essential rail route would be from Pelly River Terminal through to Watson Lake, Watson Lake (Lower Post in B.C.) to Suskeena and a connection with the Canadian National extension from Terrace, B.C., and thence to the Port of Prince Rupert. Rail route distance, Pelly River Terminal to Watson Lake - 256 miles: Pelly River Terminal to Prince Rupert - 986 miles.

  • E) A continental connection to Alaska (standard gauge) requiring a link from Pelly River Terminal to Watson Lake plus a link from Pelly River Terminal to Minto (150 miles) and from Minto to the Alaska - Yukon border (162 miles).
For purposes of this study, rail route Option B has been considered extending from the Alaska border through to Red Pass Junction on the Canadian National line near the British Columbia - Alberta provincial boundary. Rail route miles, Alaska border to Red Pass Junction - 1464 miles.
  • F) Feeder Connections:

    Pelly River Terminal to MacMillan Pass (Narrow Gauge) - 173 miles

    Ross River to MacMillan Pass (Standard Gauge) - 134 miles.

  • G) Minto to Dawson (Standard Gauge) - 175 miles.
The assumption has been made that none of the rail extension options connecting to the existing narrow gauge system at Whitehorse would be completed and operational prior to 1980. Consequently, existing traffic pattern movements by highway would not be affected prior to that time. Similarly, it has been assumed that the British Columbia Railway link to Lower Post, B.C., and Watson Lake, Y.T., would not be available prior to 1985 and that all existing traffic movements through Whitehorse and Skagway would be continued until that time.

    The report continues with subjects including rail line construction, maintenance, and facilities operating costs; comparative operating costs for rail, truck, highway, pipeline, and ocean links; the pattern of costs for each rail option; options involving a single rail route; a look at the distribution of the benefits of a rail expansion; and employment shifts.