Pacific Northwest Expedition 2008

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BNSF C44-9W #5285 leads a motley assortment of power at Scenic, WA as it approaches the Cascade Tunnel.

Last September, for the first time in nearly two years, I was finally able to make my first trip back home to Washington State.  My time was primarily spent visiting friends and relatives, but I did manage to get in a couple of days on Stevens Pass and a few afternoons along the tracks in Steilacoom. The shot above is the only train I managed to catch on the pass, but as trains go, it was a rather impressive one.

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For those of you unfamiliar with Washington State, here’s a map!

The areas showcased in these photo’s are approximately outlined in red. Steilacoom is not really as large as this map makes it seem, but I was unable to draw a smaller rectangle that didn’t look odd.

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A detailed view of the Stevens Pass area

Since I was coming from Bellingham when I went up the pass, I started on the west side and worked my way east to Scenic. That night I backtracked west to Skykomish where I spent the night at the Cascadia Inn. After a fitful sleep during which I was startled awake every hour by passing trains, I continued east to Leavenworth the next day without seeing so much as a hy-rail truck.

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The bridge over the Skykomish river at Gold Bar.

The first stop I made while heading up the pass was at Gold Bar, where there is a small beach/boat launch along the Skykomish river with a good view of this bridge (there were no trains of course).  It’s a nice area and I’ve seen other photo’s taken there, next time if I’m not as rushed I may spend a few hours on the beach.

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BNSF SD40-2 #7805 crawls into the tunnel.

The next stop was at Index, where I caught the same train seen here, however the photo’s I took didn’t turn out terribly well, nor did the photo’s I took of it at Skykomish. Finally though, I got shots of all the power at Scenic as it entered the tunnel.  This was after a 3 hour wait while the crew scrounged up an additional locomotive to get them the rest of the way up the hill.

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BNSF SD60M #8136 follows the 7805.

This sort of consist is not something I see much of on CSX where ES44’s and Dash 9’s rule, so I was pretty excited to see such a wealth of second and early third generation power on one train.

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CEFX SD60 #6002, a former SOO unit is next.

At the rear of the consist came the lease power, two SD60’s, the first being this former SOO unit now lettered for CEFX…

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A rather blurry EMD SD60 #9044 is the last unit in the consist.

… followed by this former Oakway (now EMD) SD60 at the rear, this was the unit they picked up in Skykomish. Which seems to have been enough to keep them from stalling. The wait wasn’t actually that annoying as it gave me a chance to check out the Iron Goat Trail that follows the old Great Northern route to the original Cascade Tunnel and the site of the 1910 Wellington Avalanche, one of the nations worst railroad disasters. I didn’t hike the whole thing, just the first half mile or so to check out the remains of a snow shed, but I know what the trail is like now, and will definitely take a day to hike or bike the entire route next time I’m there.

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The last well car crawls into the gaping maw.

Despite the power issues the train was having, it actually made it up the hill at a pretty good clip, and it didn’t take long for this final car to disappear into the mouth of the longest railroad tunnel in the United States.

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A very detailed view of the Steilacoom area.

Steilacoom is where I spend most of my time trackside when I’m back home. Since I have relatives there it’s readily accessible, and fairly scenic. The BNSF line is a well maintained high speed route that sees all types of UP and BNSF trains, Amtraks Seattle-Portland Cascades and the Coast Starlight. The small yard near Sunnyside and the spur to the shuttered Abitibi paper mill (formerly Boise Cascade) is no longer in use, but there are still one or two small switchers (GE 45 Tonner’s I think) stored at the mill.

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Amtrak NPCU #90340 leads a northbound Cascades train along south Puget Sound.

One of the first movements I saw at Steilacoom was a northbound Amtrak Cascades train being led by NPCU #90340, an interesting locomotive in that it didn’t have the skirting that most of the Cacades NPCU’s have. I’m really glad I got a few shots of it as I’ve been wondering how to model these units, and had no idea what if anything was left hanging off the frame after they were converted.  I’m guessing that fuel tank is full of concrete, I’m not sure why they left the air tanks in place though… I wouldn’t have thought they would be necessary.

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UP SD70M #5051 leads 2 other SD70M’s elephant style with a stack train past the north end of Sunnyside Park in Steilacoom.

Union Pacific Trains are a common occurrence on this line as it provides their only access to deep-water Puget Sound ports. The SD70M’s are very common these days and have been for many years, which creates a nice change from predominately GE BNSF, though this visit I did see my first coal train headed for the Roberts Bank superport being led by a pair of SD70MACs. As luck would have it, that particular movement caught me by surprise and I was on the wrong side of the crossing to photograph it due to the lighting conditions.

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Amtraks northbound Coast Starlight glints in the evening sunlight as it skirts the sound on its way to Seattle.

North of Steilacoom, on the other side of Chambers Creek is the fairly new Chambers Bay Golf Club, built on an old sand pit. It’s a really beautiful Scottish Links style course (scheduled to host the 2015 US Open) that also includes a walking/jogging/biking path around the perimeter, which parallels the tracks for a bit. Above the course, at what used to be the edge of the pit, one can see pretty much all of Steilacoom, and though somewhat distant, trains are fairly easy to spot, especially when the evening sun is glinting off shiny superliners.

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The southbound Coast Starlight speeds past Sunnyside Park.

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The entire Coast Starlight consist as it rounds the curve making for the Steilacoom ferry dock.

I was also present one day to catch the southbound Coast Starlight making it’s way south past Sunnyside behind two P42’s.  It’s nice to see a solid Phase V consist.  Most of my memories of this train are of a medley of Phases behind F40’s, P42’s or a mix.  It looks like Amtrak has finally standardized on something though.

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Amtrak F59PHI #467 pushes a northbound Cascades train over the pedestrian crossing at Sunnyside Park.

I believe this is actually the same Cascades train as seen in the previous photo, just from the other end.  Either that or the Engineer has forgotten to turn on the headlights…  I really like this paint schemed, and I was very pleased to see that this was a matched consist, photo’s I’d seen before this trip had shown theses trains operating with P42’s on a somewhat regular basis, which looks really ugly.

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BNSF ES44DC #7782 and an unidentified GP60B head a southbound manifest train towards Steilacoom.

The B unit on this train was a pleasant surprise, I’d never before seen one of these ex-Santa Fe units.  Unfortunately I was well down the beach when it showed up so my vantage point wasn’t exactly spectacular, this photo is all right though.  It’s nice to be able to see all the piping along the frame of the ES44.

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UP SD70M #4714 about to pass Sunnyside Park.

Though the sun was totally screwing me over for this shot (as it did for most of my shots) a little work in Photoshop fixed it up well enough.  I believe this was the lead locomotive on a unit grain train, however I might be mistaken either way, it’s something headed north to either Tacoma or Argo Yard in Seattle.

The trip was a lot of fun, I had been planning on returning around the same time in 2009, however I don’t think that will happen this year.  There’s a lot going on back east for me to do, and I’d like to save my money, so maybe 2010 will be the next trip.

Chris

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