Friday, September 19, 2003
2003 Bellingham Trip
by Lindsay Korst
Take a ride on the route of GN's Internationals
with a quick stop in Edmonds to visit the fabled
Pacific Fast Mail!
I am up and out the door at 0615 this Friday morning.
I drive to Bellevue and park, then walk to the Bellevue
Transit Center. I catch the frequent #550 Sound Transit
bus which drops me off just across the street from
King Street station. I enter the depot at 0720 and am
confronted with a multitude! There must be a good 500
people in this station. There's an 0730 train for Portland
and an 0745 train for Vancouver, BC which explains
I am traveling Business Class today from Seattle to
Bellingham and back. I will be getting off northbound
train 510 in Bellingham and then immediately board
southbound train 513 back to Seattle. This is similar
to the train trip I rode during the 2000 Seattle
Hmpf. I look around King Street and notice they no
longer have signs for Business Class check in.
Hesitantly, I walk past about 200 people to the
front of the line and am greeted with, "Business
Class? Business Class?" Oh thank heavens...
Quickly they lift my ticket, give me my seat
assignment and meal voucher and point me over
to Door #2.
While I wait to board, I notice that they are finally
starting to renovate the inside of King Street
Station. On the north wall of the waiting room
they have removed the false wall and several columns
are clearly visible. It already makes the waiting
room look more spacious. The station mistress is
announcing the departure of the 0730 Portland train
with an ordinary bullhorn (perhaps taking down that
wall knocked out the regular speakers). Surprisingly
enough, the bullhorn sounds MUCH BETTER than the
old speaker system did. I can actually HEAR what
she is saying!
At 0730 promptly, they board the business class
passengers for train 510. As we walk to the
rear of the consist, I can see the Portland train
leaving the station and whistling for Royal Brougham
Way. In the house track are 4 ex-ATSF-looking
business cars with a full length ex-ATSF dome
in the middle. Ah, gracious living. I step aboard,
find my seat, stow my gear, and place my seat check in
the overhead slot. Before I am settled in my seat,
the conductor comes through and announces that
the dining car is open! I decide to head up there
and see what's cookin'.
I am promptly seated in a nice, single seat on
the water side. At 0740, the diner is already
full and they are starting a waiting list! (Yet
another reason to ride business class.) I choose
the "Cascade Omelet" with a glass of milk and
some hot tea.
At 0741, I see a Sounder commuter train in its
nifty "wavy blue" paint scheme backing down the
main track to the coach yard. At 0742, another
Sounder pulls in on the next track and unloads
its commuters. At 0743, I hear the engineer
release the air brakes (sssssSSSSSSSsssss). At
0744 (he snuck out early), we are moving north
and enter the double track tunnel under downtown
Seattle at 0745.
At 0748, we pop out the tunnel and run along the
waterfront. Our trainset today is
the blue and silver Talgo which was originally
built to run between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
That service never got off the ground and now
it is used as the daily roundtrip to Canada.
At 0750 we pass Myrtle Edwards park and the
huge grain elevators north of there. I spot
two blue "Louis Dreyfus" GP-9 chopnose switchers
# 2011 and 2010 at the elevator. North of there,
they are building this funky-looking bridge
over the tracks for pedestrians.
0754 brings us to Galer Street and Balmer Yard,
the former GN freight yard for the Seattle area.
At 0756 we pass by Interbay roundhouse which has
a colorful collection of BN, BNSF, Sounder, Amtrak
and UP (yes, Union Pacific) diesels. As we
approach Bridge 4 (0759) (the giant double track
bascule bridge over the ship canal), my food arrives.
Mmmmm the omelet is very good! It is still
cloudy outside but as Mark Twain used to say,
"Nothing helps the scenery like ham and eggs".
We pass Golden Gardens at 0802 and I notice they
have been putting in new ties since the bridge.
Good thing too, as the track here is VERY rough.
"BNSF Detector, Milepost 9.7, Main One, No
Deeefects, axle count 23, Deeetector Out."
(yes, an ODD number of axles!)
We pass Carkeek Park at 0807 slowly (track work)
on Main One track (which is the water side).
I'm still marveling how good breakfast was as
I return to my seat. Served on real plates with
metal silverware and heavy linen napkins and
At 0809, we resume normal track speed (about 60mph)
at Richmond Beach. 0811 - We pass a large oil
refinery on the left and the announcement is made
for the Edmonds stop. The depot here is a relatively
new GN-built affair (1956 or 57) as a suburban stop.
We trip the Edmonds detector just south of the depot
which tells us that all is well. We arrive/depart
at 0814/0817, "Highball 510". We enter double
track at MP18 (Main One again) and pass Norma Beach
At 0824 we pass Picnic Point and the engineer
acknowledges "Approach Medium" (flashing yellow)
at MP 27. "BNSF Detector, Milepost 27.2, no
deeefects, axle count 23, ambient temperature
48 degrees. Detector Out."
At MP 28 we take Main One again and pass Mukilteo
ferry dock at 0830. "Amtrak 510 to Delta Yard,
approaching Howard Park". then..."Approach Medium
at Everett Junction". At 0834 we slow to about
25mph on the single track and pass the old former
Great Northern station in Everett at 0836.
We bore through the tunnel under downtown Everett,
curving around until we are facing southeast at
the brand new Everett Station. Built for yet-to-be-
started Sounder train service, it has a separate
commuter train track in front of the depot that has
not yet been cut in with switches. It is a four
story brick structure which looks more like an
office building than a train station.
We board about a dozen people at Everett and
depart at 0841. Crossing over to take the
northward line to Delta Yard. As we turn
sharply north again, I can see the dispatcher
has held a westbound intermodal at Lowell for
us. At 0847 we pass under I-5 and enter
Delta Yard. As we approach the engine
servicing facility, I notice HUNDREDS of these
little plastic bottles shoved into the openings
on the trackside chain link fence (crew water?).
One group of bottles in formed in the shape of
a heart and other bottles spell things (darned
creative these railroaders!).
At 0850, we are down to 10 mph and slowly plod
across the first of 3 drawbridges between
Delta Yard and Marysville. At 0856 we finally
reach the other side and pick up speed. By 0902
we have passed back underneath I-5 and are
really flying - I'm guessing 79 per here.
0905 finds us meeting a southbound freight and
trigger another detector at MP 46.2. At 0907
we flash through Silvana but at 0909 our
engineer reports yet another approach medium
and at 0912 we are stopped on the main track
at Stanwood waiting for a southbound freight.
I take this opportunity to call Bill Lee,
yet another GNRHS buddy of mine who is the
station agent at Bellingham. I report our
tardiness and he says he thinks I can meet
up with Don of Pacific Fast Mail in Edmonds
on my way back! Cool! We had talked about
this previously, but he wasn't sure if Don
was available. Today he is "IN".
0922 - FINALLY the southbound freight has
crawled by us in the siding and we are off.
We are back to 79 per in no time, but all
these meets and slow orders have stabbed
us good and we arrive at Mt. Vernon-Burlington
depot at 0937, 16 minutes down.
At 0939 we get the highball but two minutes
later "Amtrak 468 stopped at South Burlington
red signal OK to proceed main to main next
signal" (or something like that). It translates
into crawling north at around 20 mph for the
next few miles on 79 mph track. Sigh. Gotta
be safe, I guess...
At 0949, "Amtrak 468 clear signal" and we are
back up to track speed. 0953 - We hit
another detector at MP 74.6 and then pass
under this really funky wooden highway
overpass (visible from I-5) and then
under the freeway and towards Puget Sound.
(Yes, I AM going to drive up here some
day and get a picture of a train here).
It's right about here that the notes in my
notebook start to look intoxicated. We
hit the first section of jointed track,
yes JOINTED TRACK (bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam)
which infest the straight sections between
here and Bellingham. This track is ROUGH.
OK, this low-slung, single axle train was
meant to run on nice, smooth welded rail,
but good grief, we are POUNDING along and
madly swaying from side to side! This
track must be left over from the before
the BN merger! Luckily (or unfortunately),
the curves have all been relaid with CWR.
This only enhances the roughness of the
jointed track on straight sections.
At 0958 we hit the 81.9 detector (no
deeefects -- oh yeah? how's about
the right-of-way?) and pass through
Blanchard. It is here that the
mainline once again joins Puget Sound
for probably the most scenic section
of the trip. At 1000, the dispatcher
radios our train "468 has OCS between
South Bellingham to North Bellingham
on main track". Here we also pass
through the first of four short
tunnels blasted through the rock.
At 1011 we curve onto a very long
causeway making it look like our
train is at sea with water on each
side and then reach land and immediately
punch into another tunnel. At 1013,
the conductor announces we will be
arriving in Bellingham in 3 minutes.
I gather up my belongings and head
for the door.
As we slow for the stop, the conductor
softly tells the engineer to pull far
enough forward (long train, short
platform). We make concrete with
a couple feet to spare! I thank the
conductor, hop off and hoof it over
to the depot, looking for Bill.
There he is! I see him in the back
room frantically pulling train
orders off the fax machine for the
southbound. He comes over, shakes my
hand and invites me back of the
counter...all right! I always get
a kick out of snooping around in
back making sure not to touch
As he's stapling the orders together,
Train 510 starts pulling forward. Bill
says, "Where's he going?". Amtrak 468
quickly accelerates north and disappears
around the corner! Bill explains that
Amtrak 510 was supposed to take these
orders up to 513 and hand them off...the
orders are permission to get out of the
yard! (the 513 southbound originates in
Bellingham and they stash it on a side
track north of the depot).
At any rate, Amtrak 513 must have gotten
permission from the dispatcher because
here he comes into the station. Bill goes
out and hands the orders for the rest of
the trip to the engineer and conductor.
I get onboard and pick a seat in Business
Class (it's open selection on this train).
We highball south at 1032, already 12
minutes down and I wave to Bill who's
giving us a roll by at the depot door.
This time I'm seated on the water side
in my single seat and it's a very beautiful
albeit bumpy ride along the sound. I head
up to the Bistro car and grab some lunch.
Again, it is very good. I have the bowtie
pasta & spinach with chicken, a cup of
Ivar's clam chowder and a nice brewski
(Widmer Hefeweizen) and bring it back to
my seat to chow.
We arrive/depart Mount Vernon-Burlington at
1102/1104 and south of town our hogger really
starts to pour on the coal. He's got it up
to the limit and we are passing cars and
trucks on parallel I-5 when my cel phone
rings. It's Bill Lee! He had gotten in touch
with Don at PFM and he's expecting me! Sweet!
Now it's a race to see how soon our engineer
can get us to Edmonds. Don has to leave for
the day at 1240, so the sooner I get there
Our hogger does his part. We are flying along
through Fir, Stanwood, Silvana and English
on good, fast track.
At milepost 46.2, we overtake the same freight
that had stabbed us northbound at Stanwood, duck
under I-5 and charge towards Marysville. Here
the train slows to a more sedate 30mph to cross
the three drawbridges over the mudflats between
Marysville and Delta Jct.
We make our stop at Everett at 1144/1147. The
Bistro car guy announces they will have an
"oversold" train south of Seattle (this train
runs through all the way to Eugene, Oregon!) and
recommends anyone who wants to eat had better do
it now. Apparently, there is a large crowd headed
to Eugene to watch Saturday's football game between
Michigan and Oregon.
We pass the old GN Everett depot at 1150 and just
south of there at the start of double track are
TWO northbound freights lined up to wait for us...
a garbage train and a merchandise (wood) train.
At 1156 (Mukilteo), there is a stack train waiting
for us. At 1159 we hit the MP 27.2 detector which
announces we now have 22 axles! (where'd the extra
one come from?). We pass Norma Beach at 1204 and
I start gathering my stuff to get off at Edmonds.
I had told the conductor when he lifted my ticket
in Bellingham that I was either going to get off
at Edmonds or Seattle. He came back now to see
if I'm getting off here and I am and do. We get
into Edmonds about 1210, so with only 30 minutes
to spare, I hoof it over to PFM with my set of
Let me explain a little about Pacific Fast Mail.
When I was a youngster (12 or so), a very nice
gentleman at the hobby store near where I lived
clear out in Pennsylvania took the time to
demonstrate a Pacific Fast Mail sound system
for me on a short section of layout.
He brought out a finely-detailed brass steam
locomotive and he proceeded to make that engine
sound just like the real thing! Bell, steam
and oh, that whistle! Along with the chuff-
chuff-chuff synchronized...I had never heard
or seen anything so fabulous! Of course it
was way out of my price range, but after that
I used to carefully read the ads in Model
Railroader for PFM and wonder about that
PO Box in Edmonds, WA. Today, I was going
to visit the real thing!
As I was walking up to the building using
Bill's directions, Don himself came up
behind me (he was at lunch) and let me in.
There's only one word to describe what I
saw inside...AWESOME! Imagine every single
brass locomotive PFM ever made on display
along with a complete parts inventory, books
and model accessories. They had a brass
model of nearly every class of steam locomotive
GN owned - some painted, some unpainted. Oh,
and for you purists? The boiler green PFM
or Tenshodo used looks REALLY good... ;p
Don even took out O-8 #3397 (custom painted)
and plopped it in my hands! Nice and heavy
like the real thing!
Of course there's a finely-detailed
demonstration layout which Don
enthusiastically showed off. It was like
being dropped off in model train geek heaven
for 30 minutes. The whistle on the steam
locomotive was just as I remembered it...
chillingly realistic and uplifting. Do I sound
impressed? Remember, I'm not a modeler,
but my visit to PFM was inspiring. It just
put a big ol' silly grin on my face.
All too soon, it was time to go. I thanked
Don profusely and he very kindly presented me
with a book, "To Seattle by Trolley by Warren
Wing". Awfully nice of him. For obvious reasons,
I'm not going to reveal Don's last name
or the location of PFM to protect his privacy.
I believe he is pretty much semi-retired now,
and so is PFM.
Now...there was the small matter of getting
home since my train was in Seattle, my car
was in Bellevue and I was in Edmonds! Don
pointed me over to a local bus which took me
to the Lynnwood Park & Ride. From there
I caught a Sound Transit bus to downtown
Bellevue by 2pm...not bad! And now it's
10pm and I am just finishing typing this!
Wow. Had a great day, a great trip, a fun
visit with Bill and an educational visit
with Don. Hey, let's do this again sometime!