The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad released more information Thursday about the Wednesday train derailment northeast of Skagway that injured 19 passengers, although not seriously, and caused the historic railroad company’s operation to come to a screeching halt.
The president of the railroad, John Finlayson, told the Empire that between passengers and crew, there were approximately 360 people on the 15-passenger railcar train that was headed north from Skagway to Fraser, British Columbia, when it partially derailed near the White Pass Summit on the U.S. side of the border Wednesday afternoon.
Finlayson said two vintage locomotives went off the tracks for unknown reasons, pulling four of the passenger cars off with them. Only three of the four passenger cars had people inside, he said. The total number of people inside those three cars was not known.
Skagway police told the Empire on Wednesday that nine people were reported injured, but Finlayson said Thursday that number was 19. None of the injuries were life-threatening or required emergency medical services. All 19 injured passengers were treated at the medical clinic in Skagway and released on the same day, Finlayson said.
“The best news is no one, at this point that we’re aware of, has been seriously injured,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “Everyone that went through the clinic was released.”
Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau was initially told to expect 25 casualties and was placed on standby, according to BRH spokesman Jim Strader. Strader confirmed they were later told to expect just nine to 12 critically injured people to be transferred to BRH, and then told not to expect any transfers. BRH was taken off standby at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Strader said. For more information on how BRH prepared, see the Empire’s Friday article on BRH CEO Chuck Bill’s presentation to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
Finlayson said the injured passengers were able to get into different passenger cars on the train and ride it back to Skagway. The railway company attached a different locomotive to the train for the return trek.
The White Pass was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush to connect Skagway to the Yukon. Nowadays, it hauls throngs of tourists on the narrow gauge railroad, offering scenic views of mountains, glaciers and gorges and a historic experience. The location of the derailment was on a section of track that routinely handles thousands of passenger excursion trips. It travels through steep terrain at times, climbing nearly 3,000 feet over just 20 miles and features steep upgrades of up to 3.9 percent, cliff hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels, and numerous bridges and trestles, according to its website.
The train travels slow, so passengers can soak up the view.
“I don’t know how fast it was going at the time, but it doesn’t move much more than 20 to 25 miles per hour,” Finlayson said.
The White Pass travels several routes including excursions to Fraser, a historic railroad station in northwestern British Columbia, and Bennett, an abandoned town at the end of the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails. The train picks up hikers and takes them back to Skagway. It also goes to Carcross in Yukon on Bennett Lake.
In this case, the train was on a one-way trip to Fraser for a combination tour. The passengers were supposed to get off at Fraser, gold pan and attend a salmon bake before taking a bus back to Skagway.
White Pass & Yukon Route railroad is investigating the cause of the derailment, Finlayson said. The Associated Press reported the National Transportation Safety Board was informed of the incident, but it wasn’t clear if they would be investigating.
The company halted operations following the incident but expects to resume service on Friday.