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The Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley, 2000

The history of Whitehorse, Yukon

Dateline: September 13, 2000

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it

    The Miles Canyon Historical Railway Society had hoped to one day get a restored steam engine back on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway tracks that run along the waterfront at Whitehorse, Yukon. Although that dream died, a little trolley from Portugal now adds charm and colour to the banks of the Yukon River.

    Trolley 531 was bought by the Government of Yukon in the fall of 1999 for $85,000, from the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, Minnesota. They had acquired it in 1978 from the city of Lisbon, Portugal, where she had worked in the city's transit system since being built in 1925 by the Santa Amaro Works of Lisbon Electric Tramways, Ltd.

    The total cost of the trolley after restoration is about $156,000, a bargain by most people's reckoning. Narrow gauge equipment is very uncommon, but so are the tracks to run them on, so prices are relatively low - a standard gauge trolley would cost 2-3 times that amount. The restoration, as well as the brokering of the purchase, was done by Tom Mendenhall's Historic Railway restoration company, based in Seattle.

    Whitehorse now appears to have the furthest-north operating narrow gauge trolley in the world. Theoretically, the 10-tonne trolley can do 74 kmh, but in Whitehorse she just cruises along at a fraction of that - this isn't meant to be a commuter express, after all.

    In its inaugural season, the trolley has just been running from the engine house to Hanson Street, but plans are to extend that route substantially, hopefully all the way from Kishwoot Island Park to Schwatka Lake and perhaps even to McRae.

    One of the possible benefits of the trolley's arrival is the (temporary?) saving of the White Pass & Yukon Route engine house. The City had announced that the historic building was to be torn down to make way for possible future commercial development. Railway historians around the world have been writing to the City, encouraging them to recognize the value of the engine house, both historically and in a practical sense, as a trolley maintenance/storage facility.

    Elmer Jordan, one of the trolley's drivers, was an engineer with Canadian National Railways until retiring four years ago. The trolley job has been great fun for him, but he has been quite surprised by the number of people wanting to take his picture (he looks great in the uniform). He says he's never had so many cameras pointed at him in his life. And from what I've seen, the trolley is a very popular subject for photographers as well.

The view from down the tracks, looking at the engine house.

The 600-volt generator that powers the trolley's pair of 25-horsepower General Electric motors. Overhead wires are being discussed for the future.

Trolley Number 531 can seat 24 people, and was originally licensed to carry 45 passengers including standees.

The pit on the left side of the engine house was used to work on the White Pass & Yukon Route locomotives.