Spokane, Portland & Seattle [Burlington Northern Santa Fe]
Washington (Lake Sacajawea)
September 8, 1999

One of the tragedies of Burlington Northern's rationalization mania after the 1970 merger was the decision to pull up the Spokane, Portland & Seattle main between Pasco and Spokane, Washington. Although it had lower grades than the parallel Northern Pacific line via Ritzville, the maintenance costs, bridges, and lack of online traffic doomed it in the eyes of BN's bean counters. Riders of the North Coast Limited found the eastbound ride along the Snake River northeast out of Pasco to be unforgettable, as it began by paralleling the river at near-water level, but gradually climbed along the steep canyon walls until one was looking far down at the river below. When it seemed as if one could climb no further the train dove into a tunnel and emerged onto the flatlands for the rest of the journey to Spokane. (Did I mention it was still signaled with semaphores?)

Here at Lake Sacajawea on the Snake, about 25 miles northeast of Pasco, the grade is still near water level. On the opposite bank (not visible here) is the Union Pacific's line between Pasco and Spokane which still hosts a considerable volume of traffic.

This page posted 3/1/2019. Text and photo ©2019 Lamont Downs.