A Unique Railroad is Established in Alaska

January 22, 1903

Seattle businessman Fred Spenser Stimson and his associates Charles Terry Scurry and J.T. Robinson established the Yakutat & Southern (Y&S) Railroad to operate in the southeastern region of what was then the U.S. Territory of Alaska. For nearly seven decades, the Y&S served a unique role among American railroads. It was the only railroad that dealt primarily with raw fish as its freight commodity. 

Fishermen in the area brought the salmon they caught to Johnson Slough on the Situk River and loaded their catch onto a Y&S train there. The train would then travel 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) north to the community of Yakutat, where the salmon was off-loaded at a canning facility. After being canned there, the salmon was shipped from Yakutat’s deep-water port at Monti Bay to various markets in the United States. 

By 1905, the cannery had an annual capacity of 50,000 cases of salmon. Due to its focus on transporting fresh-caught salmon, the Y&S relied very much on those times when the Situk River’s tides were sufficiently high for retrieving fish there. “The Yakutat & Southern may be the only railroad in the world that runs by the moon rather than the sun,” reported the newsletter of the National Railway Society’s Pacific Northwest Chapter in 1966. 

The Y&S depended as well on the fishing season itself; for most part, this railroad operated only throughout the summer and did not run at all during the winter. The Y&S was operated by at least five companies during the course of its existence. The railroad’s final owner was the Marine Foods Packing Company, which filed for bankruptcy in 1971. This ended the operations of the Y&S. Several of the railroad’s cars can be found today in a park near the center of Yakutat, however. In addition, the one-time Y&S rail bed is now a hiking trail. ​

For more information on the Yakutat & Southern Railroad, please check out https://www.abandonedrails.com/yakutat-and-southern-railroad and https://www.mooringlodge.com/Yakutat-Railroad.htm

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