Klondike tourist train suspends operations after derailment

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A vintage rail company that hauls hundreds of thousands of tourists every year along the route of the historic Klondike Gold Rush has suspended operations while it investigates a derailment that injured nine people.

The derailment occurred during the Wednesday afternoon run of the White Pass & Yukon Route tourist train, which goes from Skagway, Alaska, into Canada.

There were few immediate details of what happened, but railroad President John Finlayson said the train derailed as it reached the White Pass Summit.

The derailment involved two vintage locomotives and four passenger rail cars, the company said in a written statement Wednesday night.

The National Transportation Safety Board was informed of the accident, but it wasn’t immediately clear if rail safety personnel would investigate, state officials said.

Medical workers went to the scene, where responders outnumbered the injured, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Initial reports had as many as 12 people injured.

Power was restored to the train, and it brought everyone back to Skagway, about 100 miles northwest of Juneau, railroad officials said.

The injured were taken to a clinic in Skagway, said Buckwheat Donahue, tourism director for the municipality. Some already had been released before 6 p.m., approximately three hours after the derailment.

Coast Guard planes and other air ambulances were on standby in case they were needed to transport the injured, but that didn’t appear to be necessary, Donahue said. Most of the people on the train suffered “scratches and bruises,” he said.

Bartlett Regional Hospital in the state capital was told to prepare for as many as 25 victims, Juneau radio station KTOO reported. That number was later downgraded before the warning was cancelled.

The train is a popular tourist attraction, taking passengers on a three-hour, 40-mile roundtrip tour out of Skagway. It climbs to 2,865 feet at White Pass Summit before it turns around and heads back, Finlayson said.

He said the White Pass Summit trip is the railroad’s most popular, offering passengers the views they were promised on an Alaska vacation: mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and even glimpses of the trails used by miners hoping to make it rich in the 1898 gold rush.

Donahue said four large cruise ships were in town Wednesday, swelling Skagway’s population of 927 by 10,000 people. There were an additional thousand independent visitors in town, he said.

Up to seven train trips were cancelled after the derailment, leaving many people with about four unscheduled hours. The railway said it would suspend operations to allow the investigation to proceed, and would run trains again when it could assure the safety of its passengers.

“We’re doing our very best to try to gather information as quickly as possible,” Finlayson said.

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