By Leigh Armstrong

The railcars near city hall were boarded up two weeks ago by public works following reports of individuals sleeping in them. Public works boarded up the entrances to the boxcars with wood. 

The issue was brought to the attention of the borough assembly by Stewart Brown, owner of SMART Bus, at the May 2 meeting. 

“There are people camped out there. They’ve been smoking and it’s a fire hazard,” Brown said. 

There were similar problems in prior years, he said, with a fire at one of the cars last season. His buses are parked up against the train cars. “If (the railcars) burn, our buses burn,” Brown said. 

There were reports of noises coming from the railcars after the May 2 borough assembly meeting adjourned. 

People sleeping in the boxcars is symptomatic of the housing shortage in Skagway, Mayor Andrew Cremata said in an interview on May 20. “If we have people so desperate that they’ll sleep in a boxcar, we have a crisis,” he said. 

The railcars are part of the historical section of tracks in place by city hall for the museum. Traditionally, visitors can go and see the cars as part of their tour of Skagway.

Police chief Ray Leggett checked out the railcars after the May 2 meeting and found there were sleeping bags, suitcases and other items suggesting that people were living in the railcars.  

“Sleeping bags and luggage were laid inside. They were very organized,” Leggett said. 

The chief put up a sign, telling people to move their things out of the cars. Everything was gone the next day. 

The railcars had been ongoing issue every summer season for the past couple years, interim borough manager Tom Healy said. “The unsecured box cars have been an attractive nuisance.”

The railcars aren’t the only place that people have been reported staying where they are not allowed. There were reports that people had been camping behind the Skagway Cemetery, but officials didn’t find any trace of occupants.

Seasonal residents will commonly sleep overnight in their cars and move them every 24 hours to prevent getting a ticket, Assemblymember Orion Hanson said at the May 15 civic affairs committee meeting.

While the municipality more strictly enforces its rules against illegal camping, it’s not a new problem. Healy recounted that when he arrived in Skagway for the first time he spent a few days in an abandoned water tower near Lower Lake Dewey when he first arrived in 1976.