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23 reported injured in Skagway train derailment

Megan Edge

There were 360 passengers and crew members aboard a White Pass & Yukon Route train when it derailed on top of a mountain near the Canada-Alaska border Wednesday. And out of those people, 23 were treated for minor injuries once returning to Skagway, according to Dahl Memorial Clinic Executive Director Shelly Moss-O'Boyle.

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management initially reported only nine injured, but Moss-O'Boyle said from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. the remote clinic saw 19 passengers and four train crew members.

According to Moss-O'Boyle, all of the injured were "mobile," and came to the clinic with bumps, bruises and scrapes. Had anyone been critically injured, she said, things would have worked out much differently and passengers would have been sent to a Juneau hospital 90 miles away.

"Skagway is a real remote area and there is no hospital close at all," said Moss-O'Boyle in a phone interview Thursday. "Juneau's (hospital) is the closest. This was the biggest thing that has happened to us in a very long time, and we did it just fine."

Moss-O'Boyle said at the time the injured arrived at the local clinic, only 16 people were on staff.

A medevac was standing by, but no one was flown out. All the patients had been released by 7 p.m., said Moss-O'Boyle.

According to Homeland Security spokesperson Jeremy Zidek, the cause of the crash is still under investigation, but they were able to determine where the two vintage locomotives and four passenger cars derailed.

"It was just across the border on the Alaska side," said Zidek.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon by White Pass & Yukon Route, the company said the incident took place near Milepost 20, northeast of Skagway, at 1:55 p.m: "The location of the derailment is on a section of track that routinely handles thousands of passenger excursion trips across the scenic and historic White Pass & Yukon Route constructed at the turn of the century."

The train, which included 15 passenger cars, was headed to Fraser when it derailed. President of White Pass & Yukon Route John Finlayson said that of the four passenger cars that derailed only three were carrying passengers.

Finlayson said the passengers were moved into other cars and returned to Skagway without ever seeing the other side of the border. He said that at this time there is no plan to compensate the passengers on board.

Finlayson did not know the extent of damage to the vintage cars or the history behind them.

The White Pass & Yukon Route makes a 2,800-foot elevation gain through White Pass before crossing a corner of British Columbia and heading north to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The company has been a staple of the area since 1899.

White Pass & Yukon Route rail operations have been temporarily suspended as the investigation continues. Finlayson said they hope to have the trains operating by Friday.