White Pass & Yukon railroad to resume Carcross service

Posted: Monday, July 31, 2000

CARCROSS, YUKON TERRITORY (AP) -- The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad brought gold to this small village Saturday.

Part of it was in a spike that Brendan Heney, great-great nephew of railroad founder Michael J. Heney, drove into the tracks in the middle of town, commemorating 100 years since the rail line from Skagway was completed during the Klondike gold rush.

But, symbolically, there also was gold in the announcement by White Pass President Fred McCorriston that the company would resume passenger service out of Carcross in 2001.

That decision was greeted with enthusiastic applause by hundreds gathered in a tent near the railroad tracks here.

There hasn't been regular train traffic in Carcross since White Pass ended its freight operation in 1982, and the town hasn't been part of the lucrative tourist runs launched in 1988, which have terminated at the opposite end of Lake Bennett.

But steady maintenance and restoration of the final 28 miles of track has put the company in a position to reopen that stretch next spring, McCorriston said.

The details are still to be worked out, but he said he expects to bus in passengers from Skagway and Whitehorse, who would board in Carcross and take a return trip either to Bennett or Fraser, British Columbia. That should bring some cruise ship passengers into the Yukon and also lure travelers on the Alaska Highway down to Carcross, he said.

Down the street from the festivities, Jan Wotton, owner of the Carcross Barracks gift store, said the centennial celebration and McCorriston's announcement are the beginning of a new era for the town.

''This is the greatest day Carcross ever had,'' Wotton said. Carcross is now poised to become a tourist destination in and of itself, rather than just a stop on the way between Skagway and Whitehorse, she said.

Chief Andy Carvill of the Carcross Tagish First Nation said the Native group is already working on a feasibility study for a five-star hotel on the shores of Lake Bennett. McCorriston's announcement dovetails with those plans, he said.

''It's news we've been waiting to hear for a while now. It couldn't have happened at a better time.''

Goldbelt Inc. tourism officials Susan Bell and Connie McKenzie attended the event in Carcross and said they welcome the idea of an attraction that will bring more Alaska Highway travelers south. That could help the Juneau Native corporation if those tourists decide to take the next step and explore the Inside Passage, they said.

Meanwhile, the celebration of the ties between Alaska and the Yukon had Yukon government leaders touting a rail connection to the Lower 48 and a natural gas pipeline along the Alaska Highway. New Yukon Premier Pat Duncan said she will visit Juneau in three weeks to discuss those and other issues with Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.

Saturday's Golden Spike Centennial celebration drew about 2,500 people and took place under mostly sunny skies and mild temperatures.

The village, which has between 350 and 400 year-round residents, hasn't seen that large an influx at one time in at least 40 years, Carvill said.

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