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Blaine 2020
Railfanning BNSF's Bellingham Sub
written by Lindsay Korst

Thursday, October 15

A week of staycation led to a day of exploring the former Great Northern mainline from Everett, WA to the Canadian Border at Blaine. It turned out rail traffic was light most of the way with only two mainline freights captured on pixels. Thus to "fatten out" my story, I will include pictures along the route from years past when Amtrak Cascades still ran to Vancouver, as well as places I didn't get to today. It'll be fun!

Welcome to Everett's Delta Yard. Now, go away! Railfans, trespassers, and other undesirable scum WILL BE SHOT! Yeah, so not much to photograph from the safety of a public street.

At the other end (north side) of Delta Yard, more die, trespasser, DIE! warnings and this curious sign pointing to Drawbridge 37 way out there across the Snohomish River. I even tried a grab shot on the way home. No joy.

On to Stanwood. Ahh...now THIS is more like it. A four unit southbound freight quietly idles in the siding next to the Amtrak platform. The general merchandise train has quite the assortment of cargo and motive power including: BNSF #1469, an EMD SD60M in Cascade Green, BNSF #282, an EMD SD75I, BNSF #5989, a GE ES44AC and BNSF #2826, an EMD GP39M (rebuilt from a former CB&Q EMD GP30).

Fir! Named for nearby Fir Island, this railroad location is at Conway, WA. On a June 2013 day, I captured a Sound Transit consist here being pushed by an Amtrak P42. If I remember correctly, this was a test run to Bellingham as a demonstration of Sounder equipment.

Every now and then you get lucky and capture a perfectly-matched set of Amtrak Cascades equipment. Just a little north of Fir/Conway, a southbound Talgo led by EMD F59PHI #469 blasts by my camera in July 2008.

February 2005 found me photographing Amtrak #468, an EMD F59PHI at the brand, spanking new depot in Mount Vernon, WA.

Oooh! Oooh! Mount Vernon Terminal Railway's sole motive power is out of the barn! I must come back here on the way home to get a better picture.

Just south of the Skagit River is the former Burlington/Mount Vernon Amtrak depot. I absolutely love that Big Sky Blue sign! Gotta go up on the platform and get a trackside view. What's this? BNSF Police! Gah, just my luck. What else could I do? I waved, "Hello" at him, took his picture and returned to my truck.

From the Burlington, WA side of the Skagit River, we see an Amtrak #466 EMD F59PHI pushing a Cascades trainset towards Mount Vernon on a cloudy day in April 2017.

At the south end of Burlington yard, I come across a couple four-axle units. I'm thinking they are remote control engines account all that gear on top of the cab. They appear to be sequentially numbered, BNSF #3155 and #3156 which are former BN EMD GP50's.

At the north end, these two units (BNSF 2516 and 3009) are switching cars. More about them later, as I will run into them again, along the Anacortes line.

Just a tad north of where the 2516/3009 are switching, is/was one of my favorite breakfast places, the fabulous Train Wreck Bar & Grill. As you can see from the above March 2016 pictures, it is located just a few feet from the BNSF mainline. It was a great place to watch the two morning Cascades race through town at about 70 per. I put that GN Internationals button on the 3rd picture to hide the goober who walked right into my picture.

The "Train Wreck" is located almost exactly midway between my brother's house in Canada and my house in the States. We used to meet here monthly for breakfast until the late unpleasantness. (That's his 2011 blue and white Shelby Mustang pulling up to park.) I understand T.W. is now open again for dine in service, and if they ever open the US/Canada border, we'll definitely partake once more.

Okay, back to brass tacks. Heading north along Chuckanut Drive (which I didn't do this trip) has a couple notable spots. First, is the former Great Northern Railway depot at Blanchard, WA which has been moved back from the tracks and is used as a community center (September 2018 view). Second, a beautiful place to photograph a morning train is just north of Blanchard when the railroad ducks under the highway bridge. Here we see Amtrak F59PHI #468 hauling a Cascades southbound in February 2005.

From Fairhaven, I enjoyed a leisurely drive down to the old GN Bellingham depots, both freight and passenger which are still standing. During my visit, there was no local power around, this being a working weekday. Amtrak now uses a newly built facility south of here in Fairhaven which doubles as a bus station and is close to the Alaska State Ferry terminal.

I think the Bellingham station looks so much better with some locomotives out front, don't you? (June 2013 visit). BNSF #2276 in Heritage 1 paint, is a GP38-2, originally built for the Frisco Railroad (as SLSF #421).

After a quick lunch, it's time to go railfan the Cherry Point subdivision -- some place I've never checked out before. Sadly, I learn the Intalco Works Aluminum smelter at Cherry Point closed April 22, 2020.


Fortunately the BP oil refinery on the branch is still going strong, producing many carloads for BNSF to haul in and out.

A mile or two from the Bellingham Sub, I spot a 3 unit train which appears to be ready to head out. The motive power is BNSF #'s 2554/326/2694, an all-EMD GP35/GP60B cabless/GP39-3 combo.

I was standing in the bed of my truck to take the pictures and it was fun watching the two combines chop down the grass/alfalfa/timothy hay (I'm just guessing here) beside the locomotives.

A little further down the humorously-named Kickerville Road, I come upon Elliott Yard which apparently services the oil refinery. I can't quite make out the numbers on the units, but it appears to be an EMD SD70/GE C44 combo of some sort.

After getting my fill of the Cherry Point sub, I head back to Custer, WA and rejoin the BNSF double track mainline heading NW towards Blaine. On the outskirts of town, I stop to photograph a former-GN steel deck girder bridge over Dakota Creek.

Sadly, the Blaine depot is all boarded up and very much in need of a rehab. The final picture above is from a September 2001 visit when it was still in use by BNSF (as is the sign picture at the start of this story).

In the third picture above, you can actually see the Peace Arch memorial which straddles the border.

A couple blocks south of the depot (I'm heading homeward now...), is The Railway Cafe set up for business in an old caboose. It looks great, but the caboose has been heavily-modified (including an adjacent building alongside), so I wasn't able to determine which railroad it came from. My brother has eaten here and said the food is pretty good!

From Blaine, I followed the BNSF tracks as far south as Ferndale, hoping to see SOMETHING run today on the mainline. No dice. Back at Burlington, I turned off I-5 onto State Hwy 20 towards Anacortes.

At the railroad siding of WHITNEY, (love those old BN-era signs), I once more meet BNSF #3009 and #2516 on a short oil train for the Anacortes Refinery. Both units are shut down and no one appears to be around, so I take a few roster shots for posterity.

BNSF #3009, still in BN Cascade Green, is an EMD GP40M, nee-CB&Q #179.
BNSF #2516 is an EMD GP39-3, a rebuild of an old GP30, nee-ATSF #1229, built June 1962.

A little further west is the massive swing bridge over the Swinomish Channel seen here in a March 2003 view.

I took the "tour" of the Refinery, by circling the perimeter on March Point Road. Not much to see except lots and lots of identical black tank cars. The views out into the water were kinda cool with a couple trestles built into the bay for pipelines to carry the petroleum to/from ocean-going ships.

What FINALLY got me to stop and take a picture was this ancient artifact...

Off its trucks and perched out in a field (near N. Texas Rd.), is this extremely boonie, arch window wooden coach. All the exterior paint is weathered off and there's no lettering visible, so I can't identify its heritage. It's gotta be 110+ years old. On YouTube, a fellow by the name of MontanaRail got inside to look around:


I had previously photographed the Anacortes Great Northern station in March 2003 and include it here, as I didn't visit on this trip. Anacortes also featured a miniature railway which is still near the depot (you can see its tracks in the above pictures), but is currently seeking someone to refurbish and operate the equipment.

Okay, off to my revisit of the Mount Vernon Terminal!

Risking certain capture and imprisonment, I recklessly pull into the parking lot of the short line. With "No Trespassing" signs everywhere leering at me, I trot up to the locomotive for a couple grab shots. Got it!

MV Terminal was noteworthy for having a Baldwin Switcher (a VO-1000 or something) for many years. Their current critter is an ex-Union Pacific EMD SW-9 #1842 built April 1953. This unit spent some time on the Tacoma Municipal Belt Line as their #1200. In fact, MVT #1200 kept the TMBL paint scheme and number with just "Mount Vernon Terminal Railway" splashed across its flanks.

Just as I'm scurrying back to my truck, a BNSF northbound coal train BLASTS past me, loudly blaring his horn for the crossing. I think I jumped a couple feet straight up! As I make my escape, I manage to grab some shots of the two DPU's pushing for all they're worth. A Pair of Aces. (BNSF #9220 and #9360, both EMD SD70ACe locomotives.)

Finally, I saw a road freight moving on the Bellingham Sub.

Back on I-5 towards Everett. At Marysville, I exit the 5 and take the paralleling SR 529. I pull off at a boat marina to capture an image of Drawbridge 37.8 crossing Union Slough. There is a 3rd drawbridge (38.3) which crosses Ebey Slough into Marysville downtown, but I still haven't taken a picture of that one.

Crossing the Snohomish River (drawbridge 37.0), I follow the tracks from Delta Yard along the waterfront (Puget Sound) past the former Bayside Yard. Bayside has been downgraded as a yard in lieu of Delta and I see just one string of freight cars. Nothing worthy of a shot. So...I punch for home.

The old Great Northern depot at 2800 Bond Street is still standing and in use by BNSF, at least according to Google Street View. These old pictures of mine from February 2000 show the unique two level platforms - upper line which goes through tunnel under Everett and east to Spokane and lower line which goes along the waterfront, then north to Canada or east to Delta yard.

I wonder if that GN sign is still in place 20 years later?! Also, an early tinted post card from steam days shows the original depot and tower....before it got the modernization "face lift" we see today.

And THAT brings us to a close on today's trip, trainspotting on the Bellingham Sub. I had a great time just futzing around, as well as researching additional pictures of the area from previous visits. I hope you enjoyed it too.