Stevens Pass 2018
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
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. The webcam link is:
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
With the depot in the background, this sign welcomes travelers to Skykomish;
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
The old Skykomish Hotel is slowly being rebuilt and according to the sign ready
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%
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
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
pulls into Trinidad siding.
It isn't long before BNSF 7011 comes slogging uphill from the Columbia River
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
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
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
the depot is this really nifty NP 4-6-0 #629 steam engine. Both of today's
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!