Let’s revive the railway

Can we get rail transportation back to Whitehorse? This discussion got started at a recent Yukon Chamber of Commerce business luncheon.

Can we get rail transportation back to Whitehorse? This discussion got started at a recent Yukon Chamber of Commerce business luncheon. There hasn’t been commercial rail transportation between Whitehorse and Skagway since the 1980s and many businesspeople think rail transportation could be good for tourism and mining.

Two key proponents of the idea pitched a plan for the Yukon to consider. They are Chuck Eaton of Eagle Minerals and Eugene Hretzay of White Pass.

Eagle Minerals is working on a proposed project to remove magnetite from the Whitehorse Copper tailings and then reclaim the land. He estimates there will be 1.9 million tonnes of magnetite produced over a five-year period.

Eagle Minerals has suggested that their transportation need be used to kick start White Pass back into the mine haul business (by using its existing rail connection in Carcross). Success out of Carcross could lead, they argue, to a case for upgrading the tracks to Whitehorse, where ore from the mines in the Yukon could be trucked for rail transfer to Skagway.

Rail transport would save more than $70 million on roadwork on the U.S. portion of the Klondike Highway, according to state reports.

Rail would mean less greenhouse gas emissions. Rail would mean less traffic on the highway, protecting the road experience for northerners and tourists. And rail out of Whitehorse would create another tourism attraction and a more cost-effective way to transport products to Skagway’s port.

In this scenario, trucking companies, who pay a fee to help offset costs to maintain roadways, would still be busy moving ore to Whitehorse.

Mr. Eaton suggests that for about $8 million, containers can be bought that can be trucked from Whitehorse to Carcross and loaded onto the White Pass train for an evening run to Skagway. White Pass wants to keep its capital costs low and is offering to lease the containers, thus paying back the investors’ money over time.

It’s either a business opportunity or, as Mr. Hretzay has stated, a means for government to support the project and get paid back while avoiding additional costs associated with road maintenance.

The Carcross option, the speakers argued, would kickstart the bigger vision to see rail transport to Whitehorse again. However, this is estimated to cost more than $50 million.

Impossible or visionary – that is what the businesses and politicians at the luncheon had to decide, although as Mr. Hretzay said, it’s been done before, and as a result Whitehorse exists today!

Darielle Talarico

Chair, Yukon Chamber of Commerce

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