Three General Electric diesel switching to couple to the head of a train in Skagway station.
After the frantic activity that reigned on the White Pass & Yukon during World War II, the post-war years were quieter, nethertheless the Yukon economy was developing and provided substantial traffic to the railroad. Its major customer was the mining industry and the bulk of the freight transported was ore bound to the port of Skagway. The WP&YR's parent company also owned the docks of the port in Skagway and thus was making profit from storage and loading of ore brought to the harbor by the railroad.
In 1947, the White Pass & Yukon bought its last steam engines. But when in the fifties the company needed again to renew its motive power, the locomotive industry was not able to provide new narrow gauge steam engines. The railroad then considered diesel power and ordered 2 diesel-electric locomotives from General Electric (GE) in 1954, #90 and 91. They were single-cab engines especially built for the WP&YR, rather heavy (80t) and powerful (890hp) for 6-axle narrow gauge locomotives. The test was positive and two years later, the railroad ordered 3 more engines of the same type from GE. Eventually, 11 GE locomotives constituting the class 90 were delivered to the WP&YR, the last in 1966. Using them, the railroad would be 100% diesel powered by 1964.
A flat car with 3 first generation WP&YR containers.
Most of the freight carried by the White Pass & Yukon originated from or was bound to points beyond the ends of the WP&YR line, necessitating transfers to ships in Skagway and/or trucks to continue North of Whitehorse. In 1955, to minimize the cost and delays created by these transfers, the railroad experimented with a new and original transportation system using containers. To test the idea, the WP&YR constituted a fleet of small containers (8'x8'x7') and modified narrow gauge flat cars to carry them (3 per car).
To ship these containers to the ports of the West Coast of Canada and USA, the company built and operated a container ship, the Clifford J. Rogers, presumably the first ship specifically designed to handle containers. Similarly, at the Northern end of the railroad, the White Pass & Yukon containers were put on company trucks for delivery all around the Yukon, constituting one of the first intermodal transportation systems. The success was immediate, but the containers turned out to be too small, limiting the amount of cargo they could carry. In 1965, the White Pass & Yukon completely rethought its system with larger 25ft containers, still put on flat cars, and built two new container ships to carry them. This new system had been in use on the WP&YR for nearly 20 years.
A flat car specially designed to carry containers, with a WP&YR container, now on display in Skagway.
In the fifties and sixties, the White Pass & Yukon with its diesel locomotives and its intermodal operations represented modern narrow gauge railroading, at a time when most of US 3ft gauge railroads were collapsing because of lack of traffic and investments. A lot of these railroads closed down during the fifties, among them the Rio Grande Southern (Colorado) and the East Broad Top (Pennsylvania), even the famed Denver & Rio Grande Western will abandon its last narrow gauge lines in 1968 (except for the tourist operations between Durango and Silverton).