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Alaska

Hop Aboard the Most Scenic Railway in the World

Known today for its unparalleled views of Alaskan wilderness and quaint romantic beauty, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad was initially born from the desire to try and tame the surrounding landscape. In many ways, Alaska was and still America’s last frontier when the last of the homesteads were constructed across the prairies and California’s gold deposits began to dry up those still looking for an adventure set their eyes northwards to Alaska, America’s latest acquisition from Russia. Much like California, those seeking to make a quick fortune set out on a quest for Alaska the moment gold was first discovered in the area.

The Klondike Gold Rush was in many ways both much shorter and much more dangerous than the California Gold Rush. Although pioneers setting their sights on California originally had to contend with large swathes of wilderness, gradually the cities and towns we know today in Midwest and West were founded along the way. As states began to join the Union in rapid fashion and grants and land ownership continued to draw more people westward, Alaska remained a true wilderness seemingly lacking even the most basic of infrastructure. When gold was first discovered in the territory those seeking to make the fortunes they missed out on in the West climbed north. The harsh landscape of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon brought a short end to many of these dreamers. The problem of ill-equipped prospectors became so bad that Canadian border agents demanded that prospectors bring at least one ton of food and supplies with them across the border to better their chances of surviving the winter. Since the region lacked any kind of paved roadway many settlers were forced to carry their supplies on the backs of horses along a tangle of old Native American trails. Once gold was starting to be extracted from the region the problem of a steady and reliable transportation system was only exasperated.

The dream of a railway line to connect the Alaskan port city of Skagway with the Canadian province of Yukon was born out of this desire to transport gold and miners safely and quickly through the region. Without a greater loss of workers and a quicker way to transport gold made for greater profit margins and more investment in the region. A group of railway investors first began draughting plans for the railway in 1897. Construction was repeatedly halted by a stubborn Skagway government and local gangster and conman Soapy Smith. Tired of being hindered by Smith constantly impeding construction a group of vigilantes got together and gunned down the gangster in a local saloon in mid-1898. With one major obstacle out of the way, the narrow rails were laid down in rapid succession and the 325-mile route was completed in 1900 as the last spike was driven into the ground finally connecting Skagway with Whitehorse, and thus the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway was born.

Although the railroad was completed very rapidly the Klondike Gold Rush came to a quick and sudden end slightly before it could begin operation. Although it never really carried much gold the train route still held a vital function for the region. More advanced mining took the place of gold prospecting and the region saw a boom in copper, silver, and lead mines. The railroad proved instrumental in carrying passengers and freight between the cities and the valuable minerals to Skagway where they could be loaded onto ships and carried to their destinations. By the mid-`900s as mines in the region began to dry up the railway faced yet another hardship. After the attack on Pearl Harbor caught the nation completely off guard the government feared a Japanese invasion of Alaska. As the area still lacked a lot of vital infrastructure, the Federal Government began to invest heavily in the region. The need for an all-weather highway to speed transport and communication with the region with the continental United States brought the area its second transportation boom. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad was instrumental in the completion of the new Alaskan highway. The United States Army seized civilian operation of the railroad in 1942 and material for the highway was loaded into freight cars and sent over by the ton. Gradually the highway began to take shape during some of the worst winter months in Alaskan history and the railroad carried record-breaking weights it never had before the war. At the conclusion of the Second World War, the railroad went back under the control of civilian hands where it operated until 1982 when it was closed for ceasing to make a worthwhile profit.

The closure of the railroad was short-lived and the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad reopened as a heritage railroad in 1988. Rides along this majestic line are by far one of the best-reviewed and most popular tourist destinations in all of Skagway. If you decide to join us on our Continuing Education Company CME Alaskan Cruise, be sure to make booking the Summit Excursion a top priority. If you decide to take this amazing journey you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time. As you make your way through the old train station you’ll hop aboard a passenger car being pulled by an old locomotive that gently chugs its way up the summit. From the safety of your car, you’ll get unparalleled views of the Alaskan wilderness so be sure to bring along your camera. You’ll squeeze your way through dark mountainous tunnels, wind your way along narrow cliff edges, and across old bridges spilling over steep valleys. The journey culminates at the top of a nearby mountain and a view of Skagway harbor and the surrounding wilderness that is unlike any other. Don’t miss your chance to hop aboard a journey into our nation’s past and see why the White Pass and Yukon Route is called the most scenic railway route in the world.


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