Last revised: April 23, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Washington's railroads are an interesting dynamic; the Columbia Basin is relatively flat with slightly rolling hills and filled with farmland while the west and north is mountainous and very rugged.
These ranges included the Cascades, Kettles, and Okanagans. In addition, the Blue Mountains can be found in the very southeastern corner of the state while the beautiful Olympic Mountains comprise much of the Olympic Peninsula.
The state's incredible geographic diversity makes it an unbelievably scenic region albeit one rather difficult for a railroad from an operational standpoint. Washington was home to several famous long distance trains like the Great Northern's Empire Builder, Northern Pacific's North Coast Limited, and the Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha.
All three trains served the Seattle/Tacoma region and ran east to the Twin Cities and Chicago. They all provided first class services such as diners, parlors, lounges, observations, dome cars for maximum viewing, and sleepers.
While Washington's heritage railroads of today do not offer such extravagances, a few do provide food service allowing guests the chance to somewhat experience what it was like to travel by train generations ago. The information provided here highlights the organizations in Washington offering either dinner trains or trips with some type of food service available.
Also a museum, this tourist railroad is based in Chehalis featuring the Mother's Day Brunch Trains and Riverview Dinner Trains. The latter is held on select dates throughout the operating season; they are quite popular so be sure and get your tickets well in advance.
Depending on which dates you select will determine what's on the menu during that particular trip. The excursion is an 18-mile round trip using restored rail cars from the 1920s. The Chehalis–Centralia Railroad began in 1986, launched by the 1986 as the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Association.
Today, the organization is known as the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum and operates 9 miles of former Milwaukee Road/Chehalis Western trackage between Chehalis and just south of Ruth, Washington running via Millburn and Adna.
This trackage, was part of the Milwaukee Road's branches in extreme western Washington with its freight based primarily in forest products. This particular line is quite scenic, following the Chehalis River and passing numerous rural farms.
The railroad typically operates a historic steam locomotive, Cowlitz, Chehalis & Cascade 2-8-2 #15 built in 1916 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Unfortunately, it is currently undergoing repairs and is out of service.
In addition, the railroad itself is currently out of service following flood damage and the rail line is undergoing repairs. They currently do not have a 2023 schedule. Their website states the following:
"We are pleased to announce the full repair of the track damage sustained in the 2022 flood has been completed. Funds are currently being sought through FEMA and SBA to reimburse the expenses incurred. In the meantime, projects to improve our facilities and the safety of our train operations are underway. The renovation of the #15 Steam Locomotive has resumed, pending the acquisition of funds."
The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad operates on former logging trackage between Yacolt and Moulton Falls with trips departing south from the small town of Yacolt.
The heritage line utilizes trackage originally by a railroad of the same name although was mostly operated by the Northern Pacific with current excursions hosted solely by volunteers who enjoy trains and keeping local history alive for others to enjoy.
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; in this case Crossett Western Company 2-8-2T #10, a small saddle-tank Mikado-type used in logging/lumber operations.
The railroad normally operates between May and October with specials that sometimes includes food service. They also host Christmas specials each December.