Railroad History
Tacoma's Local Railroads Today

A lot has changed since the 1950's. After a series of mergers, there are only two "Class One" rail systems serving Tacoma: BNSF, and Union Pacific. Both railroads have a long history in Tacoma.  Passenger service is now provided by Amtrak and Sound Transit with long distance, regional and commuter trains.

Tacoma Rail (formerly Tacoma Belt Line Railway) handles much of the local rail traffic as well as switching intermodal and vehicle traffic.  Both BNSF and UP originate local trains from their respective yards.

BNSF operates one of the largest rail networks in the United States, with 35,000 route miles covering 28 states and 2 Canadian provinces.

BNSF was created on September 22, 1995, from the merger of Burlington Northern Inc. (parent company of Burlington Northern Railroad) and Santa Fe Pacific Corporation (parent company of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway). Burlington Northern had been created in 1970 from the merger of the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, Spokane, Portland & Seattle, and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.

In 1996 BNSF re-opened Stampede Pass to ease congestion caused by the growing inter-modal traffic from Puget Sound ports.

For more information on BNSF:

BNSF Corporate web site
BNSF Corporate History
Friends of the Burlington Northern

For information on the BN's "fallen flags", the railroads which were merged to create Burlington Northern in 1970:

NP, see the PSMRE NP page
GN, see the PSMRE GN page
SP&S, see the PSMRE page "Other Area Railroads 1950's"
CB&Q, see BNSF's history pages.

Union Pacific Railroad is the largest railroad in North America. The system serves 23 states, and interchanges traffic with the Canadian rail system.

Over the past century and a quarter, various mergers have taken place, and the current UP is composed of many railroads which were once famous in themselves: Denver & Rio Grande Western, Missouri Pacific, Western Pacific, MKT, Chicago & North Western, and most recently Southern Pacific. Today the Union Pacific Railroad, always a giant, is one of the few remaining large U.S. railroads.

Union Pacific's largest single customer is APL Land Transport Services, a steamship company that operates in the Pacific. Second is General Motors, followed by an assortment of chemical companies and utilities. UP is the nation's largest hauler of chemicals, much of which originates along the Gulf Coast near Houston, Texas. Union Pacific is also one of the largest intermodal carriers--that is the transport of truck trailers and marine containers.

For more information on UP:

UPRR corporate web site
UP System Map
Union Pacific History and Photos Page
Union Pacific Historical Society

amtrak.gif (600 bytes)Amtrak was created in 1971 to take over passenger service from most of the railroads in the United States. 

By the 1960's many railroads' passenger service departments had become unprofitable.   While railroads continued to invest in equipment and marketing of passenger travel through the 1950s, and some even beyond, in reality ridership suffered a long decline beginning in the early part of this century.   Improved highways and automobiles, and then cheaper air travel drew customers away. As railroads reduced schedules, rail passenger service entered a spiral of decline.   Railroads were obligated to continue some degree of service, but petitioned the government for relief from a task they now considered to be a distraction from their core business of hauling freight.

When Amtrak was created in 1971, a few holdouts continued to run their own operations.  In those early days, Amtrak used equipment inherited from various railroads, in widely varying stages of repair.  Those early trains were quite colorful with a mix'n'match paint scheme, until each car could be repainted in the new Amtrak livery. Today Amtrak has a growing fleet of hi-tech Genesis locomotives, continues to add new equipment, and continues to fight for its financial life with every budget cycle.  In some areas Amtrak is trying to add revenue by increasing its express-freight business.  For example in the Northeast Corridor it runs trains carrying parcels and mail daily or more, and it wants to do similar business out west. 

Amtrak has ongoing partnerships with several states to co-fund transportation projects. Both Washington and Oregon Departments of Transportation provide some funding for the Amtrak Cascades regional trains in their states. Currently the Cascades trains consist of Talgo passenger cars with EMD F59 engines and converted F40 Cab cars, operating in a push pull mode. Equipment constraints frequently result in Amtrak GE P42ís as power and during the holidays additional trains using heritage passenger cars can be seen along the line. .    

Tacoma's modern Amtrak station is a located at 1001 Puyallup Ave., about a mile from the old Union Station (which is next to the Washington State History Museum, where PSMRE's layout is located). The local number is (253) 627-8141. Amtrak's national number is 1-800-USA-RAIL. The daily schedule for Tacoma currently includes five trains each direction: four Cascades and the Coast Starlight. See Amtrak's schedules for arrival and departure times..

For more information on Amtrak:

Amtrak official web site - you can even make reservations, or check train arrival times
Amtrak Cascades page
Amtrak historical society
Photo Gallery of Amtrak trains including the Coast Starlight.   This site also has several Amtrak-related travelogues and Internet "slidewhows".
Coast Starlight summary and route map
Washington D.O.T. and their rail pages: Passenger Rail Pages, Freight Rail Pages
Oregon D.O.T. and their Rail Pages

Sound Transit operates Sounder commuter trains that currently run between Tacoma and Seattle as well as Seattle and Everett. An extension to Lakewood over, in part, the former NP Prairie line, is in progress (2011). The Tacoma Sounder Station (Tacoma Dome Station) is located at Freighthouse Square (former Milwaukee Road freighthouse Ė 400 block of E 25th St, 3 blocks SW of the Amtrak Station).

Nine Sounder trains (including two reverse commute trains) operate in the mornings and evenings, weekdays only. Trains also operate on the weekends for Mariners and Seahawks games. Sounderís use EMD F59PH1 locomotives and Bombardier bi-level passenger cars painted in an eye catching paint scheme. These trains operate in push-pull mode over BNSF tracks. In Tacoma, Sounderís divert from the BNSF Seattle sub, using a short connector track to the former Milwaukee Road line, along which can be found a small coach yard. The line utilizes a long wooden trestle to reach the Tacoma Dome station. The future extension to Lakewood will involve building a +-mile long section of track connecting the former Milwaukee Road to the former NP Prairie line.

In Tacoma, Sound Transit operates the Tacoma Link street cars (light rail). These run between the Tacoma Dome Station and the Theater District at the north end of downtown Tacoma, with convenient stops in front of the Washington State History Museum. Riding Tacoma Link is free and the cars operate weekdays from 5:30 am to 10pm on 20 and 10 minute headways. Saturdays and Sundays have more restricted operating hours.

For more information on Sound Transit: Sound Transit's Sounder Commuter Trains

Tacoma Rail is one of three operating divisions of Tacoma Public Utilities and evolved from the The Tacoma Belt Line and Tacoma Eastern. Often referred to as the Muni or the Belt Line, it switches freight between Tacoma industries and the transcontinental railroads. Its customers include the Port of Tacoma, the sixth largest container port in North America. In addition to containerized cargo, the Belt Line's freight includes chemicals, automobiles, finished aluminum products, scrap metal and lumber products. The railway operates over three divisions and 204 miles of tracks, using 16 locomotives and serving 80 customers.

For more information on Tacoma Rail:

For brief history of the Belt Line, see Other Railroads in the 1950's (Beltline)
Or see Tacoma Rails own pages, part of the Tacoma Public Utility site, which provided the info above and a lot more.

Back to the PSMRE History Overview
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The BNSF, UP and Amtrak logos above are trademarks of their respective companies.