2018 Stevens Pass
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Stevens Pass 2018
"New Angles"
written by Lindsay Korst

Saturday, June 23rd

Whilst researching this year's trip along the old Great Northern Railway, I was inspired by re-reading Bob Del Grosso's "Railfan's Guide to Stampede and Stevens Passes". In the Stevens Pass section, Bob has several photos from familiar locations, but taken from a slightly different angle. The results for me were very satisfying and gave the trip a bit of pizzazz as I anticipated each new vista.

In addition, the Empire Builder was very late both days giving me the chance to shoot it in different, usually dark, locations. Thus, presented here for your train spotting enjoyment is my annual trip to Stevens Pass, 2018 version.

The first picture of the day was a grab shot of a short westbound between Index and Baring. I actually stopped on US 2 (there was no traffic on the road at that hour of the morning).

These pictures crack me up. Recently installed at Skykomish is a rail webcam installed on the roof of the Cascadia Inn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkhMzzjXo9c (if this link doesn't work, simply go to www.youtube.com and search under Skykomish.)

I HAD to take a picture of myself (or at least my truck) on the video link as I rolled into Sky. I waved at the camera and saw myself wave back about 20-30 seconds later (there is a time delay apparently in the broadcast). Thanks to Bob Kelly for providing the URL.


My scanner revealed the westbound I saw back on US2 was "going to meet two" at Gold Bar -- a Z train followed by a double stack according to the Seattle East Dispatcher. Sweet! A couple hot trains to follow east. Time to poke around Sky a bit.

With the depot in the background, this sign welcomes travelers to Skykomish; Under gloomy skies, the Sky depot (now a museum) waits for rail aficionados to return.

Still looking good are two pieces of the old GN -- EMD SD9 #599 and Fred Black's X-228 caboose.

The old Skykomish Hotel is slowly being rebuilt and according to the sign ready to lease space to businesses. A view down the street with the Whistling Post and Cascadia Inn in view. A close up of the web cam location on the Cascadia.

A distant rumble beckons me trackside and soon the eastbound Z train led by BNSF 7011 (a General Electric ES44C4) roars through town.

My first "new angle" is the cut just west of the Deception Creek bridge. Big GE power and a trainload of containers and trailers squeeze through the narrow cut and over the trestle.

New angle #2 is at White Pine Road with the hot train coasting off the 2.2% grade in full dynamic. Around the corner is Merritt where the Z will start to pick up speed on the straightaway.

Okay, I probably should have gotten on the OTHER side of the bridge at Dryden.  Unfortunately, I was barely ahead of the Z and I was lucky to catch him here.

Forsaking the classic shot at Monitor curve, new angle #3 found me at the old MONITOR sign in "downtown".

At Wenatchee station, my Z train is coasting down to the yard office (and crew change point) as Amtrak #7 comes drifting along the platform. Today's Empire Builder is hopelessly off schedule (I'm surprised they didn't turn the consist at Spokane and bus-stitute the passengers).

As the sun is very high in the sky, it's time for some "looking down onto" pictures. Trinidad horseshoe curve is one of my favorite railfan haunts, so that's where I head. New angle #4 is above and beside the west portal of Tunnel #11.1, built during a 1940 line change.

I reach my perch just as a short westbound comes downhill from Quincy. He talks to the dispatcher about his ailing third unit which he will try to restart when he pulls into Trinidad siding.

It isn't long before BNSF 7011 comes slogging uphill from the Columbia River into Lynch Coulee. Passing the westbound in the siding, the Z makes its way up around the big curve, past my vantage point and into the tunnel.

New angle #5 is on top of a hill with a sweeping view of the mainline passing a rock cut and into the east portal of Tunnel 11.1. Time for a selfie!

I've reached my spot no more than 15 minutes when the whine of dynamic brakes materializes into a westbound double stack. In the last picture, you can see the original grade used before the tunnel was drilled, which is now the access road.

Jumping Jehoshaphat! RIGHT on the yellows of the double stack comes a Z train with five units including a heavily-weathered Santa Fe engine. A colorful mix of trailers thread their way downhill.

The dispatcher has put BNSF 8179 into the hole at Trinidad. The hot Z led by BNSF 3897 overtakes the lower-priority freight as it heads towards Wenatchee.

At this point, the trains "dried up". I headed east to take a look around Quincy.

BNSF has torn down and completely removed the old 1950's-era Quincy depot. Compare with this 2014 view when the building was still standing.

Back at Wenatchee, the shadows are starting to lengthen. Here I find an eastbound just off the pass with a mixed merchandise train. BNSF 8498 (an EMD SD70ACe) noses up to the Cascadian fruit storage warehouse.

Sunday, June 24th

The next morning, I just manage to catch an eastbound unit coal train (empty) as I'm leaving Wenatch. The DPU (pushing) is BNSF 5753, a GE ES44AC.

New Angle #6 - Taken from the funky highway bridge at the west end of Cashmere is BNSF 5844, another GE ES44AC leading an eastbound doublestack. That's the Wenatchee River alongside.

As I head towards home, I stop to check on the progress of the Empire Builder. The Amtrak app tells me he's due shortly (several hours late) into Leavenworth, so I swing around on the Chumstick highway and River Road to catch him at the Wenatchee River bridge near Plain, WA.

The Builder has just ONE unit (NRPC #135, a P42DC) as it rolls across the river with the Seattle section Superliners sparkling in the sun. The engineer serenades me with some extra flourishes on his chime horns -- in the middle of his regular crossing signal (long, long, short, long). I've never taken a picture of #7 in this location before.

I give chase. It is a round-about way back to US 2, so I don't catch the Empire Builder until Berne, WA where I just see it through the pines about to duck into Cascade Tunnel. I will try for a shot at the west portal of Tunnel #15. The problem is #7 has a straight 8 mile shot, downhill, to get to Scenic, WA, whereas I must wind up and over Stevens Pass on US 2. It's going to be close.

I come bombing down the hill, turn into the access road and stop in a huge cloud of dust at the portal. As I sprint up to the tracks, I can see 135's headlight in the blackness of the bore. Made it!

Again, the friendly engineer greets me with his chimes as he pops out of the tunnel. Notice the new sign over the portal -- complete with GN Ry logo!!

I have no trouble getting ahead of the Builder downhill into Skykomish. As an eastbound waits in the siding, #7 slides by towards Puget Sound.

It's a beautiful day, so I spend some time exploring the Great Northern and Cascade Railway. BNSF 4142 leads a train past the mineral red engine shed. A steam engine carried passengers away from the Sky depot. A train rolls past the "old" Cascade tunnel portal and into a snow shed.

Taking a ride, our train approaches this really cool wooden truss bridge. Back at the depot is this really nifty NP 4-6-0 #629 steam engine. Both of today's trains are lined up at the station ready to roll.

My last train of the day is this eastbound empty oiler. Notice it has both CSX and NS units as power. Improvements are continually being made along the GN & C Railway including this fragrant rose garden near the depot.

I had a great time out railfanning on the BNSF Scenic and Columbia River subs.  Trains galore and always the spice of the hunt. See y'all next year!