General Electric engine #99, second last in its class, seen at Skagway station.
Until the fifties, the White Pass & Yukon relied exclusively on steam engines, with the exception of a few small yard switchers and a weird variable-gauge diesel, a prototype for the US Army. But in 1954, as it was impossible to order new steam engines from the locomotive industry, the railroad was forced to experiment with diesel power. The first WP&YR diesel road engines were two 6-axle diesel-electric locomotives delivered by General Electric (GE), rating 890hp. They had a single cab, were designed specifically for the WP&YR (type GEX3341) and their prime mover was an Alco 6-cylinder diesel. Later, similar diesel locomotives were built for export to South America for narrow gauge as well as standard gauge.
The two locomotives were fully satisfactory and three other engines were delivered by GE in 1956. Three more locomotives of the same type (class 90) were ordered in 1963, allowing the WP&YR to retire its last steam engines in 1964. Finally, the last three locomotives of the class (a little bit more powerful: 990hp) arrived in Alaska in 1966, bringing the total number of GE class 90 of the WP&YR to 11 (#90 to 100). These locomotives have been nicknamed Shovelnose because of the characteristic shape of their front end. All of them are still on the property today.
GE #94 heading a train bound to Skagway, seen just before its destination.
Alco - Montréal Locomotive Works class 101 diesels
Alco - Montréal Locomotive Works 6-axle engine #108, seen at the engine terminal in Skagway.
In 1969, to face the fast growing traffic (especially ore shipping), the White Pass & Yukon seeked again to increase its diesel roster. This time, the railroad turned to Alco (American Locomotive Company), precisely to its Canadian subsidiary Montréal Locomotive Works (MLW). The locomotive manufacturer proposed its DL535E model, a 1200hp 6-axle diesel-electric engine, with narrow hoods and a single cab. These locomotives were related to the classical Alco RS (road switcher) and were equipped with a new and more powerful version of the same Alco prime mover used on the WP&YR GE class 90.
Seven of these engines (#101 to 107) were delivered by MLW to the White Pass & Yukon in 1969. Unfortunately two of them were almost immediately destroyed by the terrible fire of the Skagway roundhouse. That incident prompted the railroad to order three more locomotives. These three engines (#108 to 110) were delivered in 1971 again by Montréal Locomotive Works (despite the demise of its parent company Alco in 1969). The eight surviving engines were used by the WP&YR until the abrupt end of its operations in 1982. Later in 1988, the railroad re-opened in summer only as a tourist railroad, but the GE diesels were found to be sufficient to run the trains, so the first five Alco of the class were sold to a Colombian narrow gauge railroad, the Societad Colombiana de Transporte Ferroviario (STF).
Three MUed Alco hard at work on the point of a heavy train departing Skagway.
Yet in 1999, because of high tourist demand, the White Pass & Yukon wished to retrieve its five engines exiled in Colombia and bought them back from STF. Four of the ex-Colombian Alco have been put back into service on the WP&YR, the fifth one is still undergoing restoration.
Class 101 specifications
Alco - MLW (1969-1971)
251D (Alco 6-cylinder diesel)
6 GE 764B1 (GE)
Tractive effort (maximum/continuous)
Bombardier class 111 diesels
Bombardier diesel #114, the only one of its class operating on the WP&YR, seen at the engine terminal in Skagway.
In 1982, the White Pass & Yukon was carrying more and more ore, especially from the Yukon mines to Skagway, it continued to modernize and ordered four new diesels from Bombardier (the successor of Montréal Locomotive Works). These four engines derived from the WP&YR Alco class 101, they had the same diesel prime mover and were as powerful (1200hp). On the other hand, they had different traction motors and trucks. They also had a wide cab, so called safety cab similar to those of GE or General Motors modern standard gauge diesels, a rarity on narrow gauge equipment.
Unfortunately the WP&YR was forced to stop its operations on short notice in 1982, after the closure of a mine in Yukon that was its major source of traffic, as only one of the Bombardier engines had been delivered to Alaska (#114). The three others stayed in Canada and were sold in 1991 to the US Gypsum, the last sizable industrial narrow gauge railroad active in USA (in south California), where two of them are still used today.