Published: December 12, 2022
By: Adam Burns
One of the nation's most beautiful states, Washington offers a mix of scenery, from open, rolling farmland in the east within the Columbia River Basin to the rugged Cascade Range in the west.
In addition, there is the Kettle Mountains, Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound in the very populated Seattle/Tacoma metroplex. The state's history with trains is rich and diverse.
They were late to arrive by railroading standards with modern operations not launching until the 1880s. However, thanks to Seattle's rapid growth and the transcontinental lines reaching there by 1883 (Northern Pacific), the state's mileage rapidly exploded to over 5,000 miles by the 1920s.
Washington was unique by having a major railroad operated electrically for hundreds of miles (Othello-Seattle/Tacoma), the Milwaukee Road. It was the only western state to feature this environmentally-friendly propulsion. Unfortunately, for a multitude of reasons, the system was shutdown in 1971. Today, the railroad itself is abandoned although sections can be biked throughout the state.
Today, many heritage railroads and museums have sprang up to tell its history which includes the Bellingham Railway Museum, Cascade Rail Foundation, Cashmere Museum & Pioneer Village, Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, Dayton Historic Depot, Lake Whatcom Railway, Northern Pacific Railway Museum, Northwest Railway Museum, Remlinger Farms' Tolt River Railroad, Tacoma Railroad Heritage Center, Washington State Railroads Historical Society Museum, and Yakima Valley Trolleys.
A few of the tourist lines are quite popular and host seasonal themed rides, particularly during the Christmas season. The information below highlights the organizations hosting holiday trips; included is their official websites for more information regarding booking a trip.
(Yacolt): If you want to see a working steam engine in Washington, one of the few places to operate these historic machines is the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad; Crossett Western Company 2-8-2T #10.
This tank engine was originally built to serve the lumber industry, a 1929 product of American Locomotive's Brooks Works.
They also have another 2-8-2T under restoration, Long Bell Lumber Company #803, built by the same company in 1925. The railroad hosts Christmas Tree Specials during a few weekends after Thanksgiving.
These are powered by diesel locomotives and offer passengers the chance to ride from Yacolt to Moulton where they can pick out a pre-cut tree for Christmas. During the trip enjoy warm cider and cocoa, hot coffee and cookies, and the kids will receive a gift from Santa Claus.
(Snoqualmie): The Santa Train has been hosted by the Northwest Railway Museum since 1969.
An event for the kids it is a 3 1/2-mile trip lasting twenty minutes; during the journey children can enjoy refreshments, meet Santa, and receive a small gift.
The train operates every weekend from the Saturday after Thanksgiving through late December. The museum also hosts a Victorian Santa Train.
The Northwest Railway Museum is one of the country's oldest railroad preservation groups; it was founded in 1957 as the Puget Sound Railway Historical Association to highlight the Pacific Northwest's rail heritage. In September, 1999 it acquired its current name.
Their prized piece is the preserved Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern (Northern Pacific) depot in Snoqualmie, a beautiful Victorian design completed in 1890. They also host excursions throughout the year over 5 miles of former Northern Pacific track, which is known as the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad.