BNSF's Scenic Sub in Northwest Washington State from Seattle to Wenatchee, WA
was part of the Great Northern's main line from Seattle to Minneapolis/St Paul until
the BN merger in 1970 when it became BN's primary route out of Seattle for traffic
headed towards Spokane and points east as the ex-NP line over Stampede Pass was
downgraded and eventually mothballed. It retained that role into the BNSF era
even though Stampede Pass was reopened in 1996 to relieve proposed congestion
out of Seattle and Tacoma's ports. While that never happened most intermodal
traffic is still routed over Stevens Pass while less priority traffic heads for
Stampede or the Columbia Gorge routing in Southern Washington.
Starting in Seattle at MP 0.0 the Scenic Sub begins at King St Station and
enters the double tracked tunnel under Seattle exiting at North Portal coming
alongside Seattles waterfront trolley line. After passing the Louis-Dryfuss grain
terminal the line passes thru the Balmer Yd/Interbay area. Bridge 4 is crossed at MP 6
near Ballard. At times all types of boats can be seen here waiting to enter the
Ballard Locks headed for Lake Union or Lake Washington.
Continuing north the double tracked line (though single tracked in a few short
locations) follows Puget Sound fairly close in places all the way to Everett
passing through towns such as Edmonds (which is an Amtrak stop) and Mukilteo
where a spur heads off up a steep grade to serve Everett's large Boeing plant.
At Everett Jct (MP 32) the old Great Northern depot is passed and the line
curves to the right entering a short single tracked tunnel under Everett.
After exiting the tunnel the new Everett Transportation Center at MP 1783 (now
using former GN mileposts) serves as an Amtrak stop as well as the starting
point for the newly started Sounder commuter service to Seattle. PA Jct is
just a short distance further where the line to Everett's Delta Yard and
Vancouver, BC branches off. From PA Jct to Lowell there is a passing siding
used for meets.
Now truely headed east the Scenic Sub takes off crossing numerous bridges
across an area well known for flooding. At Snohomish Jct the connection to the ex-NP
Woodinville Sub branches off. The former NP bridge that carried the line north
to Sumas crosses the Scenic Sub here. After Monroe the line enters the
foothills and heavily forested areas of the Cascades passing thru towns such as
Sultan, Startup, and Goldbar. Next is Index where a sweeping horseshoe curve
thru town is worth checking out. One last passing siding is located at Baring
before the tracks reach the old railroad town of Skykomish. It is here that
the 2.2% grade up Stevens Pass begins.
Well into the climb the line crosses numerous bridges such as Foss River and
Deception Creek before reaching the siding at Scenic where meets are common.
After leaving Scenic eastbounds enter the 7.8 mile long Cascade Tunnel and
continue to climb until exiting at the east portal.
The siding of Berne is just beyond of the east portal and is another common
place for meets. Continuing down the 2.2% grade the Scenic Sub passes thru a short
tunnel and crosses Gaynor Bridge as well as going thru an area known as "The
Slot" before reaching the base of the Hill at Merritt. It is here that you
notice how the scenery changes from forested fir trees to pine. Three short
tunnels are encountered between Winton and the Bavarian town of Leavenworth.
After passing thru the small towns of Peshastin and Dryden where orchards
abound Cashmere is reached, famous for it's old "Aplets and Cotlets" factory. I
remember riding GN specials to Cashmere in the late 60's where we train riders toured
their facilites. BN continued the practice early in the 70's for a year or two.
After Cashmere the trees start to thin out even more as the line continues east
but the orchards still abound. Apples and pears are a big item in this part of
the state. A sweeping curve just east of Monitor was the site used for many GN
publicity shots. Olds Jct at MP 1652 is the start for double track into
Wenatchee and is also the junction for the CSCD RR branch up to Oroville, WA.
This shortline interchanges with the BNSF at Wenatchee weekdays.
Train traffic on the Scenic Sub varies as to which part of the line you are on.
Between Seattle and Everett numerous Amtrak and merchandise trains share the
line with the intermodals headed for Stevens Pass so it is naturally busier
than east of Everett. Besides the e/b and w/b Amtrak Empire Builder to Chicago
there are two Talgo Cascade trains each way a day between Seattle and Everett that
continue north, one to Bellingham and the other Vancouver, BC. There is also
the Sounder commuter train out of Everett to Seattle early in the morning and
the arriving train late in the evening on weekdays. Good days will yield you
25-30 freights in a 24 hour period between Seattle and Everett however it
should be noted that the line is not as accessable as no roads parallel that closely.
Best bet is to head north out of Seattle in I-5 and take exits to the larger
towns with access such as Edmonds and Mukilteo. But Highway 2 follows the line
east of of Everett closely all the way to Wenatchee. Besides the Amtrak Empire
Builder 10-15 freights daily, mostly intermodal can be expected.
This Subdivision has some of the most varied scenery I have ever seen
beginning with a Seattle city backdrop to running along the shores of Puget Sound as well
a mountain crossing with lush forests giving way to the arid landscapes of
Just a note about the weather. Wintertime in the Cascades usually means snow
and this winter (2003-2004) has seen a lot of it. Rain and fog is common in
the lowlands most of the time while it is snowing up on the pass. But fall and
spring can be quite pleasant on those rare sunny days. Summertime is the best
time to visit for the long days and a better chance for sunshine even if it can
get quite warm in the Wenatchee area. I have been railfanning the Stevens Pass
line since the 1960's and still never tire of planning another trip to this
Subdivision. I hope this photo gallery will show you why.