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Rails to Riches
Historic Railways of Alaska & the Yukon Territory

by Murray Lundberg

The North American frontier has from earliest times been seen from a wide range of perspectives, from capitalists looking for new resources, to those men and women to whom it offered a new start as they "tamed" it, to those seeking a life of solitude despite the difficulties. With the rapid advances made possible by railroads through the last half of the 19th Century, capitalist expansion was made ever easier, while the other groups were forced to flee further and further west and north.

As knowledge, or stories, regarding the vast wealth of the northwest corner of the continent spread, improved transportation services were always stated as being the key to the future of the new territories. The following quote from Dr.Charles Willard Hayes of the U.S.Geological Survey (December 4, 1897) is fairly typical:

"It is at once evident that the question of paramount importance in the development of the district's resources, is one of transportation. Fortunately the problem of the distribution of supplies is greatly simplified by the thousands of miles of navigable rivers belonging to the Yukon system. This, however, does not materially assist in getting supplies over the coast range into the gold region. As the experience of the past summer conclusively proves, the enormous distance by sea and river, the difficulty of trans-shipping at St.Michaels, and the uncertainties of navigation on the lower Yukon, all combine to prevent freight from reaching its destination on the upper river in a single season, or necessitates prohibitory freight rates; another important factor in the problem is the fact that the upper portion of the Yukon is open to navigation from four to six weeks longer than the lower portion. It freezes later in the fall and the ice breaks earlier in the spring. The fearful hardships encountered on the trails from the head of Lynn Canal to the interior during the past summer show that while these routes were bad enough when traversed by a few hundred miners each season, they are totally inadequate to meet the demands even now made upon them. Clearly better means must be devised for transporting passengers and freight, and particularly the latter, to the gold fields.

The question is thus narrowed down to the practicability of building a railroad from navigable waters on the coast to a navigable branch of the Yukon." (Hayes went on to recommend the Taku Valley as the only practical route to the interior, but within 4 months, work on a railway across the White Pass had started).

Although subsidized shipping, and construction of pack trails and wagon roads were the initial focus of the development forces, plans for a series of railways ranging from 2 miles long to over 2,000 miles had been appearing in newspaper articles and government reports since the 1880s. Many of the explorations of Alaska and the Yukon had surveys of possible railway routes included in their mandates; while many of the railways which were incorporated used facts from these rough surveys, many more were based more on a wonderful imagination, and apparently very able promoters.

We have been very lucky in the North; due to the enormous cost of removing materials and equipment from abandoned railways, a fairly large number of railway artifacts can still be found here. The best example of this is the White Pass & Yukon Route, where virtually all of the track originally laid in 1898-1900 is still in place, and from Skagway to Nome, turn-of-the-century locomotives sit rusting in the bush or on the tundra.

The list of railways below cannot be considered complete; there are certainly more from the Alaska side that need to be added. While the railways in Canada have been fairly easy to track down due to the fact that most of these companies turned first to the federal government for land grants and/or capital, in the United States the raising of private capital was generally the first priority, and the companies were incorporated and promoted in many states. I would appreciate any additions (or corrections) that you might have; they will then be added to this article, with credit given to the contributor. As with all of my inventories, the broadest possible interpretation of "railways" is used, so that even horsedrawn tramways on wooden rails qualify for inclusion.


Listing of Yukon/Alaska Railroads and Charters

Akron, Sterling and Northern Railroad Company
- February 1900, this Colorado company filed to construct a line from Valdez Bay to Eagle.
Alaska Anthracite Coal & Railway Company
- organized in Seattle in 1909
- 17 miles of standard-gauge line were constructed in 1915 to access the Bering River coal fields (the MacDonald Mine on Bering Lake), from its terminal at Goose City, east of Katalla.
- operated a 0-4-0 16-ton locomotive and three 40-ton flat cars from 1917 until 1921, but was only about 80 per cent completed when the coal mine was closed.
Alaska Central Railroad
- May 1898, incorporated in Arizona to construct a line from Prince William Sound to the Yukon River.
Alaska Central Railroad
- 1901, incorporated to construct a line from Resurrection Bay to Rampart House. The following summer, surveying began at several points.
- June 1906, construction contract amended; a line from Seward to Cook Inlet was to be completed by December 1907.
- 1908, reorganized as the Alaska Northern Railroad.
- 1915, 71-mile right-of-way sold to the Alaska Railroad.
Alaska Central Railroad
- incorporated Feb. 27, 1998 to build an 86 mile railroad from Wasilla to Tyonek, with possible extension into Canada. The purpose is to provide access to 2 billion tons of coal and 2 projected ports.
- also, in 2000, the operating division of the Alaska Live Steamers, operating on about 3,000 feet of 7½-inch gauge track at Wasilla.
Alaska Coal and Coke Company
- January 1903, applied to construct a 10-mile line from the Yukon River to California Creek.
Alaska, Copper River and Yukon Railroad Company
- 1902, incorporated in Washington to construct from Prince William Sound to Eagle.
Alaska Gastineau Mining Company Railroad
- 1914-1921, a narrow gauge line was run 2 miles through a tunnel to the mine.
Alaska Gulf and Yukon Railway Company
- early 1902, incorporated to construct a line to Eagle.
Alaska Home Railroad Company
- 1907, incorporated in Washington State. Promoters claimed that a line would be run from Valdez to the interior. When a survey crew entered Keystone Canyon, they were fired upon as trespassers, and one man was killed.
Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine Railroad
- the 7-mile line was constructed in 1911.
- operated until 1944 when the mine closed.
Alaska Lumber & Pulp Company
- operated 1959-present
Alaska Marble Company Tramway
- a 3,200-foot gravity line was operated ca.1905 on Prince of Wales Island.
Alaska Midland Railroad
- 1907, surveying starts on a route from Haines to Fairbanks. A future extension to join the Siberian railroad was envisioned.
- ca.1915, the project was abandoned as support moved to the Alaska Railroad.
Alaska Northern Railroad- see Alaska Central Railroad
Alaska Pacific Railroad & Terminal Company
- operated in 1907
Alaska Railroad
- 1904, surveys were conducted for a line from the Gulf of Alaska to Eagle.
Alaska Railroad
- March 1914, President Wilson signs a bill authorizing a survey for a railway to the interior. A total of $35 million was then allocated for construction of the line.
- 1915, construction begins, following purchase of the right-of-way of the Alaska Northern Railroad. The final spike was not driven until 1923.
- 1947, virtually the entire line and related facilities were rebuilt.
- January 1985, sold to the State of Alaska for $22.3 million.
Alaska Southern Railway Company
- incorporated in Washington State.
- February 1907, applied to construct a 7.2-mile line from Juneau to Douglas
Alice Arm Railway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct a line from Alice Arm, B.C. to Telegraph Creek and on to Teslin Lake, Yukon. Not built.
- 1926, dissolved.
Alsek and Yukon Railway Company
- 1907, incorporated to construct a line from Haines to the White River district of the Yukon.
Apollo Consolidated Mining Company
- 1897, a narrow gauge line was operating on Unga Island. Abandoned about 1917.
Atlin Railway Company
- 1914, incorporated to construct a line from Atlin, B.C. to the mouth of the Taku River in Alaska.
Atlin Short Line Railway and Navigation Company
- February 1899, incorporated to construct a line between Taku Arm and Atlin Lake. On June 6, a horse-drawn tramway was opened on the route.
- June 1900, bought out by the White Pass & Yukon Route and merged into the Atlin Southern Railway. A narrow gauge was built (it was also known as the Taku Tram).
- 1926, the company was dissolved, although the railway continued to be operated by the WP&YR until 1951.
Atlin Southern Railway Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct a line from the White Pass line at Log Cabin, B.C. to Atlin and Telegraph Creek.
- 1926, dissolved.
Boundary, Kamloops and Cariboo Central Railway Company
- 1904, incorporated to contruct a line from the B.C./Washington border at Midway to the Stikine River, Teslin Lake and the Yukon/Hootalinqua River junction.
British Columbia and Alaska Railway Company
- 1910, incorporated to construct a line from Vancouver to Lytton, Telegraph Creek and Teslin Lake.
- 1926, dissolved.
British Columbia and Dawson Railway Company
- 1910, incorporated to construct a line from Vancouver to Lytton, Telegraph Creek and Dawson City.
British Columbia and White River Railway Company
- 1911, incorporated to construct a line from near Haines to the White River district of the Yukon.
British Columbia Northern and Alaska Railway Company
- 1906, incorporated to construct a line from Vancouver to Lilloet, Telegraph Creek and Teslin Lake.
- 1926, dissolved.
British Columbia-Yukon Railway Company
- 1897, incorporated as the British Columbia division of what would become the White Pass & Yukon Route.
British Yukon Mining, Trading & Transportation Company
- 1897, incorporated as the Yukon division of what would become the White Pass & Yukon Route.
- 1900, name changed to British Yukon Railway Company.
Canadian Yukon Railway
- 1897, Federal government approves project to provide an "All-Canadian Route" to the Klondike, via Edmonton or the Stikine River. Contract let to Mackenzie & Mann on January 25, 1898.
Canadian Yukon Western Railway Company
- 1903, incorporated to construct a line from Dawson to Forty Mile (with a bridge across the Yukon River), and on to the Alaska border.
Cassiar Central Railway Company
- 1897, incorporated to construct a line from the Stikine River to Dease Lake (on one of the routes to the Klondike).
- 1926, dissolved.
Chilcat and Yukon Railway Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct a line from Haines or Pyramid Harbour to the interior.
Chilkat Inlet Railway and Navigation Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct a line from Haines or Pyramid Harbour to the interior.
Chilkat and Klehini Railway and Navigation Company
- 1901, incorporated to construct a line through the Chilkat Pass.
- 1926, dissolved.
Chilkoot Pass and Summit Railroad Company
- 1885, charter requested by a group of Juneau and Sitka merchants; the request seems to have been ignored, as were most requests from Alaskans.
Cliff Creek Coal Mine railway
- owned by the North American Trading & Transportation Company, the mine was 58 miles downriver from Dawson City.
- 1899, the 36-inch line was run 1 3/4 miles from the Yukon River to the mine.
- closed in 1904.
Coal Creek Coal Company railway
- located 54 miles downriver from Dawson City. The 36-inch line was built 11 1/2 miles from the Yukon River to the mine in 1903.
- 1906-1909, oerated as the Sourdough Coal Company.
- 1909-1914, operated by the Northern Light, Power & Coal Company.
- mine closed in 1914, railway abandoned in 1918.
Coast Yukon Railway Company
- 1903, incorporated to construct a line from Kitimat, B.C. to Atlin, Dawson and the Alaska border.
- 1926, dissolved.
Controller Railway & Navigation Company
- December 7, 1909, incorporated in New Jersey, for the purpose of constructing a line from Controller Bay at Cordova to the interior. About 45 miles of line were surveyed by 1913.
Cook Inlet Coal Field Company Railroad
- 1900, an 8.5-mile narrow gauge line was built from Homer to Homer Spit. Abandoned in 1907.
Copper River and Northwestern Railway
- May 16, 1905, incorporated in Nevada. In 1906, work started on a line from Valdez, but after reaching Keystone Canyon, work was stopped, and a new route from Katalla was chosen.
- 1908, construction begins on the 195-mile line to access the huge copper district owned by the Guggenheim/Morgan syndicate. The line was finished in 1911.
- abandoned in 1939.
Copper River and Yukon Railroad Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct a line from Valdez to Dawson City.
Council City & Solomon River Railroad
- September 1902, survey conducted for 50 miles of standard gauge line from the coast to the Discovery Mining District.
- about 23 miles of track were eventually laid, but operations ceased in 1907.
Crooked Creek and Whiskey Island Railroad
- a 3000-foot narrow gauge line runs around Alaskaland in Fairbanks, using a gasoline-powered 0-4-0 engine.
Curly Q Line: see Wild Goose Railroad
Dawson City Electric Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct an electric railway or tramway within 50 miles of Dawson City.
Dawson City Electric Lighting and Tramway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct an electric tramway in the vicinity of Dawson City.
Dawson, Grand Forks & Stewart River Railway Company
- incorporated in London, England (see Klondike Mines Railway).
Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway Company
- 1896, incorporated as the Edmonton District Railway Company.
- 1899, name changed, with expansion of authority to construct a line to the Yukon River.
- 1910, charter purchased by the Canadian Northern Alberta Railway Company.
- 1926, dissolved.
Goulding Railroad
- possibly built on Chicago Island.
Haines Mission and Boundary Railroad Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct a line from Haines or Pyramid Harbour to the interior.
Hudson's Bay and Yukon Railways and Navigation Company
- 1897, incorporated to construct a line from Hudson's Bay to Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and the Yukon River.
- 1899, name changed to Hudson's Bay and Northwest Railways Company.
- 1904, work being done to improve Mackenzie River navigation.
Juneau, Douglas and Treadwell Rairoad Company
- October 1902, incorporated in Washington to construct a 6-mile line from Juneau to Douglas.
Kamloops and Atlin Railway Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct a line from Kamloops, B.C. to Dease Lake and Atlin.
- 1926, dissolved.
Katalla Coal Company Railroad
- operated ca.1902-1908
Ketchikan Pulp Company
- operated 1954-present
Klondike Mines Railway
- incorporated 1899, financed by the Dawson, Grand Forks & Stewart River Railway Company.
- 1905-1906, 31.81 miles of track laid from Dawson to Sulphur Springs.
- abandoned in the fall of 1913.
Kootenay and North West Railway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct a line from the B.C./Washington border near Cranbrook to Fort McLeod, and Teslin Lake.
- 1926, dissolved.
Lake Bennett and Klondike Railway and Tramway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct lines from Marsh Lake to the Hootalinqua River, and one around Miles Canyon.
Lake Bennett Railway Company
- 1901, incorporated to construct a line from Dyea to Lake Bennett.
- 1926, dissolved.
The Mayo Valley Railway Ltd.
- March 29, 1901, incorporated to construct a line from Mayo to the Keno Hill silver mines.
Miles Canyon Historic Railway Society
- January 1995, established to obtain, restore and operate the former White Pass locomotive No.151 along a stretch of existing White Pass track at Whitehorse.
Miles Canyon and Lewes River Tramway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct tramways around Miles Canyon, and from the head of Five Finger Rapids to the foot of Rink Rapids. The tramways were to be converted to railways in the future.
Miles Canon and White Horse Tramway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct a horse-drawn tramway on the west bank of the Lewes (Yukon) River, around Miles Canyon.
Nome-Arctic Railroad: see Wild Goose Railroad
Northern Empire Railway Company
- 1908, incorporated to construct a line from southern Alberta to Edmonton, Lower Post, B.C., Dawson City and the Alaska border.
Pacific & Arctic Railway & Navigation Company
- 1897, incorporated as the Alaska division of what would become the White Pass & Yukon Route.
Pacific Northern and Eastern Railway Company
- 1903, incorporated to construct a line from Hazelton, B.C. to Atlin and Teslin Lakes.
- 1926, dissolved.
Pacific Northern and Omineca Railway
- 1900, incorporated to construct a line from Kitimat Inlet to Teslin Lake and Dawson City.
Pacific and Yukon Railroad Company
- 1902, being promoted to construct a line to the interior along an unspecified route.
Pine Creek Flume Company
- 1899, incorporated to construct tramways in the Atlin gold fields.
Portland & Stickine Railway Company
- 1898, incorporated to construct a line from Portland Canal to Telegraph Creek (presumably to connect to the Canadian Yukon Railway).
Rainy Hollow Railway Company
- 1907, incorporated to construct a line from the Alaska border at the Klehini River to the Rainy Hollow copper mines.
- 1926, dissolved.
Rush and Brown Copper Mine Railroad
- ca.1905-1908, about 3 muiles of narow gauge line were operated on Kaasan Peninsula, Prince of Wales Island.
Salmon Creek Railroad
- 1913, a 2.6-mile line was built just north of Juneau by the Alaska-Gastineau Mining Company.
Setuk Company
- January 1903, applied to construct a 12-mile line from Ocean Cape to Setuck River.
Seward Peninsular Railroad: see Wild Goose Railroad
The Skagway and Lake Bennett Tramway Company, Limited
- 1897, incorporated to contruct a horse-drawn tramway from Skagway to the summit of the White Pass.
Stickeen & Teslin Railway, Navigation and Colonization Company
- 1897, incorporated to construct a line from Glenora (on the Stikine River) to Teslin Lake.
- 1926, dissolved.
Tanana Mines Railway
- 1903, incorporated to construct a narrow-guage line to access the Tanana Valley gold fields.
- 1904, 45 miles of track laid from Chena to Fairbanks, then on to the gold fields.
- 1906, renamed the Tanana Valley Railroad.
- 1917, sold to the Alaska Railroad, and widened to standard gauge.
Trans-Alaska Railroad Company
- 1901, plans to construct a line from Valdez to the Nome area.
- 1903, reorganized as the Valdez and Copper River Railroad, but construction never started.
Trans-Canadian Alaska Railway
- March 25, 1942, a survey begins for a standard gauge line from Prince George, B.C. to Fairbanks, and a possible extension (the Western Railway) to the coast at Teller; 556 people were employed.
- February 1943, the final report, estimating a cost of over $235 million, was never approved.
Treadwell Mines Railroad
- ca.1902, the line was built to access the Treadwell gold mine on Douglas Island at Juneau.
- operated until 1917 when the mine flooded.
Unuk River Mining & Smelting Company
- ca.1905, an electric railway was planned to run from Ketchikan to the Unuk River.
Valdez and Copper River Railroad: see Trans-Alaska Railroad
Valdez, Copper River and Tanana Railroad Company
- early 1903, planned to construct a line from Valdez to Chena. A large dock was completed, some equipment was ordered, and the first 35 miles were surveyed before the company folded.
Valdez, Copper River and Yukon Railroad Company
- late summer 1902, incorporated to construct a line from Valdez to Eagle and Dawson City.
Valdez-Eagle City Railroad
- planned to construct a line from Valdez to Eagle.
Valdez and Northern Railroad Company
- ca.1902, incorporated in New Jersey.
- April 1904, reorganized as the Valdez, Marshall Pass and Northern Railroad Company, applies to construct a line from Valdez to Eagle.
Valdez-Yukon Railroad Company
- 1905, incorporated to construct a line from Valdez to Dawson City. The first track was laid in August 1906, and the line reached Keystone Canyon before being discontinued.
Vancouver, Northern, Peace River and Alaska Railway and Navigation Company
- 1891, incorporated to construct a line from Vancouer to the Stikine River.
- 1926, dissolved.
Vancouver, Westminster & Yukon Railway Company
- 1901, incorporated to construct a line from Vancouver to Teslin Lake and Dawson City.
- 1905-1909, amalgamated with 2 other railways.
Vancouver, Westminster, Northern & Yukon Railway Company
- incorporated in 1899 to construct a line from Vancouver to Hazelton and some point in the Yukon.
- 1926, dissolved.
White Horse & Alsek Railway Company
- 1903/1904, proposes to construct a line from Whitehorse to Dawson (not built).
White Pass & Yukon Railway Company, Limited
- July 30, 1898, incorporated in London, England to operate the Pacific & Arctic, British Columbia-Yukon and British Yukon Railway companies.
Wild Goose Railroad (Nome)
- 1900, a narrow-gauge line constructed from Nome to Anvil Creek. The first 4 miles opened in late July.
- 1902, following construction of the second Wild Goose Railroad (see below), this one was renamed the Nome-Arctic Railroad.
- 1906, reorganized as the Seward Peninsular Railroad, but often called the Seward Peninsula.
- 1910, regular service on the 87-mile line was discontinued, although the line was used intermittently by several owners.
- 1922, bought by the Sate of Alaska and rebuilt. A wide variety of vehicles were used on the line after that, including dog-powered "trains."
- 1950s, a section of the line was reopened as the tourist-oriented Curly Q Line.
Wild Goose Railroad (Council City)
- 1902, 7-mile line constructed from Council City to Ophir Creek.
Yakutat & Southern Railroad
- 1903, a total of 18 miles of track laid to haul lumber and salmon from Situk and Lost River to Yakutat.
- operated until the mid-1960s.
Yukon Mining, Trading & Transportation Company
- incorporated in London, England in 1897 to construct a line from the head of navigation on Taku Inlet to Teslin Lake.
- 1926, charter revoked.
Yukon Pacific Railway Company
- incorporated in 1902 to construct a line from Whitehorse to the Yukon/B.C. border


Further Reading:

  • Brovald, Ken C., Alaska's Wilderness Rails: From the Taiga to the Tundra (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories, 1982)
  • Clifford, Howard, Rails North: The Railroads of Alaska and the Yukon (Seattle: Superior, 1981)
  • Cohen, Stan, Rails Across the Tundra (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories, 1984)
  • Janson, Lone E., The Copper Spike (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1975)
  • Johnson, Eric L., Mining Railways of the Klondike (Vancouver: Canadian Railroad Historical Association, 1995)
  • Minter, Roy, The White Pass: Gateway to the Klondike (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1987)
  • Prince, Bernadine LeMay, The Alaska Railroad in Pictures, 1914-1964 (Anchorage: Ken Wray, 1964)
    
    
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