Commuting on the old GN
2003 Everett Trip
by Lindsay Korst
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Come along for a day trip on the old Great Northern
from Everett to Seattle and return on GN's "Coast Line"
or the "head of the rake" as James J. Hill used to call it.
It is 5 am when my alarm goes off. I am out the door at
5:30 and at Scott Tanner's house at 6:15. It is pitch
black outside, but luckily not raining.
Today is the first official day of Sounder train service
on the Everett to Seattle line of BNSF, ex-BN and
nee-Great Northern. There will be many festivities,
speeches and most-importantly, FREE TICKETS to be handed
out to the first 500 people! Can't miss this...
As usual, Scott and I are way early, but this would pay
off handsomely as the day wore on. We start with a
hefty breakfast in Everett (can't train geek on an empty
stomach) and arrive around 7:45 at the new Everett
Intermodal Station, using the FREE parking lot just across
It is a rather plain looking (IMHO) four-story brick
building on the outside, but VERY nice on the inside.
Scott and I take the fifty cent tour, taking pictures
here and there and manage to get ourselves trapped in
the fire escape! Only one way out...DOWN four flights
of stairs to the main floor, oh well...
Visible from the third floor balcony is a model of
the Everett, Snohomish River delta, built right into the
floor. I snap a quick frame for posterity.
This "floor mural" is rapidly being covered by a hefty
crowd here for the three Amtrak trains that will arrive
in the span of about 60 minutes.
It is now 8:30 am and Scott and I spot the "festivity
tents" way east of the depot. We can see snacks and even
brats grilling, just like a real tailgate party! Too
bad we are still saddled with our heavy breakfasts...
We head over and notice that a substantial line has
already formed! Apparently Sound Transit got the word
out, because the public has really turned out in force
for an early Sunday morning.
Scott agrees to pick me up a ticket when they start
handing them out at 9:30 am (there's a limit of 4
tickets per person), so I head back to the station
to try out my new Canon Digital Rebel camera.
The northbound Cascades #510 for Vancouver, BC arrives
and departs on time. Shortly after he heads north,
the Empire Builder rolls into the station. #7 is right
on time after its 2,206 mile journey and I notice
she is carrying two sleepers and no "freight" on the rear.
Amtrak President, David L. Gunn (bless 'em) has turned NRPC
back into a PASSENGER railroad and opened up Beech Grove
shops to start repairing and returning to service some of
those idle, wreck-damaged Superliners.
About 9:00 am, the Alki Tours Leavenworth Snow Train
arrives from Seattle and Edmonds. On the rear of the
train is Amtrak 10031 the former GN 1391 "Ocean View",
a full length Budd built lounge car...back on home rails
and still in first class service!
The Snow train (10 Horizon coaches, dome car and Amtrak
GE units on either end) departs at 9:15. I head back to
the ticket line as they will start passing them out at 9:30.
(BTW, if you want to ride the Snow Train, the website is:
http://www.alkitours.com. Book several months early because
these trains always sell out.)
When I find Scott...he already has our tickets and they are
SOLD OUT! Yep, we would depart for Seattle with a standing
room only crowd of 700+ Seahawks fans.
The next step. Where to sit on the train? I steered Scott
to the rear of the train as we would be "pulling" to Seattle
and "pushing" back to Everett. This would be an excellent
chance to grab the "railfan seats" with a forward view
(or in this case, a rear view).
As we stand on the platform in the wind, a KOMO 4 TV News
crew stops by and interviews Scott who gives a few, very articulate
observations about today's trip. The link on their website is here:
Eventually, we have a long line of people behind us and at
each door on the train. Soon, there is a hiss and all the
doors open. We race to the rear of the train and...JACKPOT!
we grab the two, rear-facing seats. Just like on an
It's full goober action time. We pull out our cameras,
scanners and timetables, bait our hooks and wait. At 11:00,
our radios crackle as our engineer, Mr. John Cox, gets permission
from the BNSF dispatcher to occupy track and depart on time
at 11:15. A switch is thrown to line us out and the dark
signals in front of us light up.
These are great seats. If the train was "pushing", these
seats would normally be occupied by the train crew (with the
engineer in the control cab on the other side of the aisle).
On the stroke of 11:15, we gently start pulling out of Everett
station. Remarkably, a spontaneous, raucous wave of applause
erupts throughout the train! (and no, I didn't start it).
Folks in Snohomish County have been wanting this train for
a long time.
We slowly pull past the Everett platform with quite
a few people still recording our passage including
some BNSF personnel in orange hard hats. We curve past
Milepost 1783 and enter the Everett tunnel under downtown. After
our one mile trip in darkness, we emerge from the tunnel, cross
a plate girder bridge and pass the former Great Northern
two-level passenger depot.
Once we meet up with the "low line" (Everett waterfront line to
Delta Yard), Engineer John Cox accelerates quickly up to the 60
mph maximum. At Howarth Park, we pass a double stack garbage
train with about 8 units on the point which, I'm guessing, is power
for Monday's local and road jobs at Delta.
At Mukilteo, the sun comes out and there is quite a contingent of
railfans on hand to capture our progress. We pass another northbound
freight and it is becoming apparent that BNSF is doing a great
job keeping opposing traffic out of our way. Except for our
Edmonds stop, we will not pause until we reach our station track
in King Street. Methinks this is a "closely-watched train" in
South of Mukilteo, we pass the cool old ship hulk beached alongside
someone's house. Scott tells me this is the site where a fellow used
to buy old boat hulks, tow them to here and salvage what he could,
then burn them to the waterline.
At Picnic Point, then Norma Beach, there are fans who photograph and
wave. Soon, the fancy waterside and trackside homes of Edmonds come
into view. Scott and I speculate about owning such a railfan's paradise,
but suspect our wives may not be as enthusiastic!
At Edmonds, our engineer makes a very smooth, rulebook stop as a large
crowd is waiting to board. I spot Bill Lee, the station agent and
wave madly but he doesn't see me (he is busy helping customers). Looks
like Bill is filling in for Tim today. Scott heads down to photograph
folks boarding. Seats were pretty scarce when we left Everett and I
suspect quite a few of them stood to Seattle.
Leaving Edmonds, Scott and I swap seats with me standing in the doorway
looking out the back, camera in hand. Scott now has the corner seat
with the best view. South of Edmonds our scanners crackle the news that
all is well on the trackside detector. We pass under two boonie
wooden overhead bridges with the oil tank farm on the water side.
At Carkeek Park (my old stomping grounds), a dozen people are up on the
footbridge to watch us pass. We swoop past Golden Gardens and then see
the old GN depot still standing back from the tracks at Ballard.
Immediately after the Ballard sign, we clump onto the double track
Bridge 4 bascule span over the ship locks and curve through a deep cut
towards Interbay. Here is the major engine maintenance facility for
the BNSF in Seattle.
The ex-GN roundhouse and turntable are still in use and and newer fueling
and sanding tracks south of there have diesel locomotives on the HOOF.
Thoughtfully, someone has parked a red, white and black former WCRC switcher
#202 with the SEAHAWK emblem on the side in plain sight of our train
near the turntable (which I record for posterity).
We pass through Interbay yard and near the tower a switch crew gives us a
friendly wave. We also pass about six jetliner fuselages on flatcars
deep in the yard. Behind me, I can hear all the Boeing geeks mumbling
that "those are 757...NO WAIT, 737 assemblies!!!"
South of Galer Street, there is quite a lot of new waterside development
where the old GN freight houses used to be. We pass Myrtle Edwards park and
the huge grain elevators and soon are running directly along Seattle's
waterfront at Pier 70. I am on the alert to snap a shot of one of the
Waterfront Streetcars as we pass, but none are around.
I notice the famous Edgewater hotel has finally gotten a much-needed facelift
and looks much more inviting. We curve behind the new Marriot Waterfront hotel
(Competition!!!) and the hundreds of condos and shops then pop into the
tunnel under Seattle. After several minutes of darkness we emerge at
King Street Station. Space is at a premium and we are squeezed between the
Empire Builder, a Cascades Talgo trainset and another Seahawks Sounder
trainset from Tacoma.
A great ride down. Thank you BNSF and Sound Transit!
Scott and I don't have tickets (the Seahawks beat Arizona 28-10), but we
passed the time by watching much of the game at F.X. McCrory's, a famous
Seattle sports bar watering hole. Between beverages and lunch, we ride
the waterfront streetcar out to Pier 70, then walk back to stretch our legs.
Soon it is getting dark and time to join the throngs getting back aboard
our train to Everett. This time we rode "upstairs" in the double-decker
coaches since it is pitch black outside and with the lights on you
really can't see a thing outside.
One criticism we both noticed: Both coming and going, they had the P.A.
system on so LOW, that it was impossible to hear what they were saying.
This was true no matter where you were in the train.
The trip back was uneventful and in the aforementioned darkness, not too
scenic. Our big excitement on the way back was spotting Bill Lee at
Edmonds as we pulled out. Scott and I waved like maniacs and this time
he saw us and waved back.
Coming into Everett, our engineer spotted us perfectly. Our door in the
first car lined up exactly on the "WELCOME" mat engraved into the platform!
Scott and I sprinted to my truck and got out of there before the multitudes
could de-train. We both had a great time and can highly recommend
this ride to others. Keep in mind that you may want to wait until
Spring to ride these trains for recreation when the light is better.
When the daylight returns, this has got to be one of the most scenic commuter
runs to ride, bar none. And call me prejudiced, but you cannot beat that wavy
blue Sounder paint scheme.
Schedule information for the train is here:
Again, a big, Rocky, WELL DONE! to BNSF and Sound Transit for putting
on a class, on-time operation.