The White Pass & Yukon Route was completed with the driving of the golden spike on July 29, 1900 in Carcross, Yukon connecting the deep water port of Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon.
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. 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 operated for most of the 20th century, but suspended operations in 1982 when Yukon’s mining industry collapsed due to low mineral prices. The railway was reopened in 1988 as a seasonal tourism operation and served 37,000 passengers. Today, the WP&YR is Alaska’s most popular shore excursion carrying over 382,000 passengers during the 2011 May to September tourism season, a 4% increase from 2010. (Total visitors to the Port of Skagway were 712,000 in 2011)
The WP&YR rail fleet consists of 20 diesel-electric locomotives, 70 restored and replica parlor cars and two steam locomotives. The diesel-electric locomotives are General Electric units dating back to the 1950’s and ALCO units from the 1960’s. The pride of the fleet is Engine #73, a fully restored 1947 Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado class steam locomotive and was joined in 2005 by No.69, a Baldwin 2-8-0 built for WP&YR in 1907. The WP&YR parlor cars are named after lakes and rivers in Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia and are on average 49 years old. The oldest car, Lake Emerald, was built in 1883.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has recently announced that starting in 2013, the Solstice class will be making stops in Skagway. The Solstice class cruise ships carry approximately 2,900 passengers and require a floating dock for disembarking passengers. White Pass has committed to the Town of Skagway and Royal Caribbean that it will add a floating dock to the Railway Dock for the 2013 cruise season to accommodate this growth.
White Pass & Yukon Route is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ClubLink Enterprises Limited (ticker = CLK). In 2011, WPYR had rail revenues of $27.2 M and port revenues of another $7M. It’s operating costs were about $18M, according to the company’s SEDAR documents. Property plant and equipment investments for WPYR totaled $7M.
The WP&YR tourist railway has been a boon the the Alaskan economy, with the growth in the cruise ship traffic over the years. While it may seem strange to have a company that owns golf courses, own and operate a northern tourist railway, Clublink seem to be doing a good job. The passenger traffic is growing. With CAPEX of only $7M Clublink runs the rail operation very frugally and profitably.