The Yakima Valley Transportation Company, which served the city of
Yakima, Washington, was nothing more than another one of the many
interurban operations which sprang up around the country. The railroad
gained fame due to its longevity, operating well into the 1980s and
during that time continue to use boxcab electric
locomotives to move freight. Today, much of the YVT's original main
line remains preserved thanks in part to the city of Yakima and Union
Pacific (which controlled the railroad for most of its existence) which worked to keep the original line intact as much as possible. Because so of the YVT remains today it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a major tourist attraction for the city of Yakima.
YVT steeple-cab #298 trundles along 6th Street in Yakima, Washington with a cut of boxcars from the nearby Selah packing houses during August of 1971.
The YYT has a history which dates back
as the Yakima Inter-Valley Traction Company, which was chartered on June
2, 1906. The YIVT was mostly just a paper company, never really
completing any construction or major building projects. However, it was
able to acquire the rights from the city to operate streetcars through
1947. A year later, in July, 1907 the Yakima Valley Transportation
Company was formed and purchased the YIVT's charter, soon afterward
beginning construction. For the first year or so of operations the YVT completed lines directly
in and around Yakima, receiving its first three trolley cars in
September, 1908 (before this the railroad rented cars from nearby
Tacoma). Just two years after the railroad began operations it was sold
to the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company, a Union Pacific
subsidiary. From thence forward the YVT remained a wholly-owned part of
the UP for nearly 80 years.
The Union Pacific, is today the largest and one of the most powerful
railroads in the country; it has been with us since 1862, some 149
years. The Union Pacific is far older than any other American Class I
railroad today with the Kansas City Southern in a nearby second at 111
years. In that time the railroad has become not only one of the most
highly respected institutions in the nation but also has seen nearly
every major railroading event in our country's history, and
accordingly has a very long and storied history. Under UP ownership the YVT began expanding its operation to tap nearby
agricultural resources to increase its freight volume. Two years after
purchasing the property, in 1911, the UP had a direct connection to the
YVT, via a branch that veered from its Portland to Spokane main line.
Yakima Valley line car A works along the branch to Wiley City as it removes catenary from the abandoned line during August of 1971. This car still survives as part of the nearby museum celebrating the interurban's history.
Now connected to the national
network the YVT could begin not only shipping out the freight it
generated but also be in a position to better market itself. By 1920
the YYT had reached its largest size,
some 48 miles, all of which were electrified. Mostly this trackage was
spread in and around the city of Yakima. However, it did have two
branches of notable length upon which it mostly served freight
customers: one branch connected Yakima to Henrybro/Ahtanum to the
southwest (a distance of 9.7 miles according the railroad's official
timetable) while the other branch veered northward to Selah (a distance
of 4.8 miles according to the timetable).
As early as 1921 the YVT began scaling back its operations, as
interurban passenger services became less and less profitable. In 1926
the railroad sought to end its inner-city passenger operations but was
denied. However, by 1934 it was able to suspend these services along
its lines outside of the city. During this time it began retiring
unneeded trolley cars and replacing these with boxcab and steeplecab electric locomotives, many of which were purchased from General Electric to use in freight service. Once the YVT's original charter expired in October, 1947 its new franchise
negotiated with the city allowed the railroad to totally abandon
passenger services in favor of buses.
YVT motor #298 enters Union Pacific's yard at Yakima with a short cut of boxcars during August of 1971.
However, even the buses proved to
be quite unprofitable and the YVT sold this operation to a private
company by 1957. For the rest of the Yakima Valley Transportation Company's days
it concentrated on serving its remaining freight customers and
interchanging this traffic with Union Pacific. By the 1980s, however,
the little railroad's freight traffic had mostly dried up and by April,
1984 the UP officially asked to abandon the operation, which was granted
by the ICC a year later in 1985. However, at this time the city of Yakima stepped in and asked Union
Pacific if it would be willing to donate the remaining 14.5 miles to
them, since they already had been operating excursions over the entire
route since 1974 and by 1983 a group had been established to oversee it,
the Yakima Interurban Lines Association. The large Class I agreed and gave the city everything except
freight motors #296 and #297.
This was once a common sight throughout Yakima; motor #298 meanders along 6th and Pine Streets as i treturns to the carbarn nearby after a days work at the packing houses in Selah during August of 1971.
While the railroad did not give Yakima
the original carbarn it did lease it to them, and the city eventually
purchased this outright in 2008. In total the city received the track,
overhead wire, the original substation, 1909 "Line car" A, and GE steeple
cab #298 (built in 1922). Unfortunately, the city lost the original
branch line to Henrybro/Ahtanum as Congdon Orchards, Inc. successfully
sued to revert the right-of-way back to private ownership. Thus, today,
only the 4.8 northern branch to Selah remains active. Despite this,
since so much of the original YVT
remains preserved it is well worth the visit and ride aboard the
historic railroad, which is now under the direction of the Yakima Valley
Trolleys Association (the Yakima Interurban Lines Association was
dissolved in 2000).