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Seattle / Tacoma

Strictly speaking, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, are two independent cities. Although separated by 30 miles of remote wooded hill country, and not formally paired like the Kansas Cities or Minneapolis / St Paul, the railroads here serve both equally. So integral are these two to Pacific Northwest travel that one speaks of them as "Seattle / Tacoma" rather than as individual destinations. Between them, they provide the northwestern anchor for the US rail network and generate a fair amount of passenger, RPO and express revenues as well as priority shipments such as Silk trains.

Puget Sound is a great natural harbor (one of few such on the Pacific coast) and one of many scenic attractions of the region. The Great Northern runs along the Sound as it comes in from its overland journey. Here we see the 1955 "Empire Builder" rolling outbound for Minneapolis in the classic GN calendar scene. Washington State has several National Parks as well as connections to Vancouver BC and various Canadian parks in that region.

What they lack in size - compared to eastern cities like Chicago - these cities make up for in strategic position. Here is the key to tapping the vast mineral and timber wealth of the Pacific Northwest, as well as being population and manufacturing centers of no small significance in this thinly settled region.

On top of that, this is a natural transportation interchange: being the closest major port to Alaska and the Orient as well as the natural meeting point for rail lines coming up the West coast and overland from the Lakes. This positioning is also significant to National Defense: there has long been a naval base and shipyard at Bremerton (a few miles up Puget Sound) and the area has served as a center of defense industry and a staging area for Air Force units both during the World War and later.

It is no surprise, then, that many well known railroads should set their sights here.


Seattle is served by two Union Stations, conveniently placed side by side (as we see above).



The Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific, with it's direct through line east to Chicago, and the UP subsidiary Oregon, Washington Railway & Navigation Co, making an end run off the Overland Route at Granger, Wyoming, meet at this magnificent Italiante styled Seattle Union Station.

Italiante is an offshoot of Gothic architecture, being lightened up with a sunny Mediterranean influence. Important features are white or light colored marble, the airy windows and the tile frescoes. Note the skylight.

This postcard dates from the 1920s and is an excellent example of colored lithography: the original black and white photo being used as a template for individual color plates which were prepared by hand (note the small blotch next to the window arch - a defect in the yellow plate).


Seattle's other major terminal is King Street Station, serving as the western terminus for the Great Northern and Northern Pacific.

Connections are made from here to the Canadian Pacific, forwarding to Vancouver and onto the major CP transcontinental trunk line.

Opened in 1906, King Street sees the bulk of sleeper service to the Seattle area, with most sleepers being routed from Chicago. This station also serves as the western base for regional connections to Yellowstone Park.

Seattle is certainly well represented to the arriving traveler!


30 miles or so further up the Sound is Tacoma, Washington. This is a smaller city than Seattle, but better situated for rail to ship interchange. This is also will sited for the tourist: being a natural connection point with easy access to Mt Rainier National Park and Crater Lake National Park (to the south) as well as the small resort towns along the coast.

This post card, showing the center of the city, dates from the turn of the century. The railroad yard at left is the NP's "Half Moon" yard (so called because of it's shape). The Northern Pacific Tacoma Union Station is a classic among railroad stations, located just across the inlet in the background. On the hill at the right is the Tacoma City hall. The large building across the street was originally built as an office building for the NP, but wound up as the Police Station.

As with Seattle, Tacoma has two stations. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific goes it alone at their depot at 25th & Pacific Avenue, generally known as the T&E station. This has since been superseded by a new station on the Tacoma Tide Flats opened in 1955.

The NP hosts the Great Northern and the Oregon Washington RR & Navigation Co (UP) at Union Station. This later station also sees through cars from the Shasta Route of the Southern Pacific, being forwarded from Portland via the joint UP / GN / NP line.

Some references courtesy Edward Emanuel, Milwaukee Road Historical Society

Boston - - Buffalo - - Jacksonville

- - Kansas City - - Seattle / Tacoma

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North East Rails  Clint Chamberlin.
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