Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission
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BNSF owns and operates three east-west mainline corridors in Washington State. Each of these lines cross the Cascade Mountains via different routes. The northern line is the ex-Great Northern route over Stevens Pass. A predominant amount of intermodal traffic to and from the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma is handled over the Stevens Pass route. The central route is via the recently reopened ex-Northern Pacific mainline through Stampede Pass. This line laid dormant for 14 years, but was rebuilt and reopened on December 4, 1996. General freight traffic only is transported over this route. The Stampede Tunnel is currently not tall enough to accommodate double-stack containers. The southern route is through the scenic Columbia River Gorge on the ex-Spokane, Portland & Seattle mainline. The Columbia River route is the only waterlevel crossing of the Cascade Range. Much of the grain and other transcontinental traffic to and from the Portland/Vancouver area is transported over this line.

All three east-west routes go through Spokane. The Stevens Pass line leaves Spokane on a westerly route to a crossing of the Columbia River at Wenatchee, WA. From here the line crosses the Cascade Range via the historic 8-mile long Cascade Tunnel and into Everett, WA where it joins the BNSF north-south line.

To reach the Stampede Pass line and the Columbia River Gorge the BNSF must head south out of Spokane to Pasco. This route follows the ex-Northern Pacific mainline through Ritzville, WA and over Providence Hill to Pasco. At Pasco the two lines split. The Stampede Pass line heads up the Yakima Valley, through Yakima and Ellensburg. From Ellensburg the line heads for Stampede Pass where a crossing is made via the 2-mile long Stampede Tunnel and into Auburn, WA where it also joins the BNSF north-south line. From here it heads north to Seattle and south to Tacoma. The final route follows the north bank of the Columbia River from Pasco to Vancouver, WA. A connection with the inside gateway leading through central Oregon is made at Wishram, WA via the Celilo Falls Bridge.

The BNSF north-south line between Vancouver, WA and Vancouver, Canada handles a significant amount of traffic. This route is double-track mainline between Portland and Seattle and single-track from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada. Much of the freight is interchanged between Canada and the United States. Also, much of the traffic originating and terminating in the Seattle/Tacoma area is routed via the southern gateway connection with the Union Pacific Railroad at Portland, Oregon.


In Washington State, the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) operates via trackage rights over the BNSF tracks from Vancouver, WA to Tacoma. From Tacoma the UP operates over its own tracks (ex-Milwaukee Road) to its terminal yard at Argo in south Seattle. UP also has a line that extends to Spokane and into Idaho. This line originates at Hinkle, OR where UP has an extensive humpyard. It continues on to Wallula Junction along the Columbia River and then north along the Snake River to Spokane. The UP line heading east from Spokane is the ex-Spokane International Railway. The purchase of the Spokane International gave the UP access to Northern Idaho and a connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway at Eastport, ID.

Bob Boston
November 23, 1998

Questions or comments, please e-mail Bob Boston: bboston@wutc.wa.gov

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