Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway

Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway
Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway
Reporting mark SPS
Locale Washington and Oregon
Dates of operation 1905–1970
Successor Burlington Northern
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway coach at Snoqualmie, Washington (Northwest Railway Museum collection)

The Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway (SP&S) (reporting mark SPS) was a United States-based railroad incorporated in 1905. It was a joint venture by the Great Northern Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway to build a railroad along the north bank of the Columbia River.

In 1970, it was leased to the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN), the consolidation of the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Due to outstanding bonds, the SP&S was not merged into the BN until November 1, 1979.[1] The Burlington Northern continued to operate it until 1987, when it announced intention to vacate the right-of-way between Snake River Junction (near Ice Harbor Dam) and Cheney. The segment between Portland and Pasco continues to serve successor BNSF and enjoys heavy traffic due to its low-grade and slight curvature crossing of the Cascade Range.

In 1991, the Washington State Parks system acquired the right-of-way and established the Columbia Plateau Trail State Park This park is a 4,109-acre (16.63 km2), 130-mile (210 km)-long rail-bed trail that traces that portion of the 1908 route of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad between Cheney and Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River.[2]



The railroad was chartered in 1905 by James J. Hill for the purposes of connecting the two transcontinental railroads owned by him, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, to Portland, Oregon from Spokane, Washington, in order to gain a portion of the lumber trade in Oregon, a business that at the time was dominated by E.H. Harriman's Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. Construction began in 1906[3] under the name Portland & Seattle Railway,[3][4] proceeding eastward from Vancouver, Washington.[5] 1906 also saw the start of construction of the line between Vancouver and Portland, including work on three major new bridges, crossing the Columbia River, the Oregon Slough and the Willamette River.[3] The northernmost of these was the first bridge of any kind to be built across the lower Columbia River.[6]

Within a year, and despite legal challenges from Harriman, who wished to block its construction, the line had been built as far as Pasco, Washington along the Columbia River, where there was a connection with Northern Pacific lines. The first section to open was from Pasco west to Cliffs (near Maryhill), a length of 112 miles (180 km), on December 15, 1907.[7] Operation was extended west to Lyle, another 145 miles (233 km), on January 15, 1908, as construction continued on the 221-mile (356 km) section from there to Vancouver.[7]

In January 1908, "Spokane" was added to the railroad's name, making it the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway.[8] SP&S freight and passenger service (from Pasco) to Portland was inaugurated in November 1908.[9] By 1909, the railroad had completed construction of its line up to Spokane along the Snake River. In 1910, SP&S gained control of the Oregon Electric interurban railway, which the Great Northern had acquired two years before. Under the control of the SP&S, the railroad was extended southward to Eugene, Oregon by 1912. SP&S also operated a second subsidiary railroad in western Oregon, the Oregon Traction Company,[5] which owned a route to Seaside, Oregon.[4] A third route on which the SP&S operated extended southward from Wishram, Washington to Bend, Oregon was the Oregon Trunk Railroad. Edward Harriman's Oregon & Washington Railway & Navigation Company also was building a railroad south from the Columbia River to Bend resulting in a railroad war in which each railroad attempted to sabotage the other. In the end, the railroad opened using mostly the track of the Oregon Trunk, with a short portion of the Oregon & Washington Railway & Navigation Company track, and both railroads used the route (an arrangement which exists to this day with BNSF owning the majority of the line and UP having trackage rights. On route maps, the portion of the route that was actually built by the OWRR&N is still shown as owned by the Union Pacific.[5]

During World War II, the SP&S benefited from a significant increase in traffic along its lines, as war materials moved along the railroad towards the Pacific Theatre, and new industries located along the Columbia River, taking advantage of cheap electricity from hydroelectric dams on the river. New industries served by the SP&S included aluminum plants, sawmills, chemical factories and grain elevators.[10]

In 1954, an SP&S train derailed after hitting a rockslide on the route to Bend, Oregon. Part of the train landed in the Deschutes River, including a boxcar, which landed in a rapid that was later named "Boxcar Rapids" after the incident, which killed the entire crew of the train.[11]

Passenger trains

The SP&S's passenger operations mostly involved hosting connections with parents' trains such as the Empire Builder and North Coast Limited, were combined to form the Streamliner (#1/#2). Oriental Limited, Mainstreeter, and Western Star connected with (#3/#4).[citation needed] However, some of these SP&S trains were named. The Inland Empire Express (daytime) and North Bank Limited (overnight) provided daily, through service between Portland (Union Station) and Spokane.[12] The Columbia River Express (#5/#6) operated between Portland and Pasco, connecting at Pasco with Northern Pacific #5/#6 for service to/from Spokane.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Gaertner, John T. (1990). North Bank Road. Washington State University Press. p. 204. ISBN 9780874220704. 
  2. ^ Columbia Plateau Trail State Park
  3. ^ a b c "Greatest Year for Railroad Construction: Building in Territory Tributary to Portland During 1906 Breaks All Records—City Now Strategic Point in Struggle of Giants". (January 1, 1907). The Morning Oregonian" (Portland), section 2, p. 20.
  4. ^ a b "The Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway, The Northwest’s Own Railway". American-Rails.com. http://www.american-rails.com/spokane-portland-and-seattle.html. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c Schafer, Mike (2003). Classic American Railroads Volume III. Andover Junction Publications. ISBN 0-7603-1649-X. 
  6. ^ "Finish Bridge Over Columbia; Steel Structure of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad [sic] Completed—Last Bolt In Yesterday". (June 26, 1908). The Morning Oregonian (Portland), p. 11.
  7. ^ a b "History of North Bank Road". (November 6, 1908). The Morning Oregonian, p. 12.
  8. ^ "Important Articles Filed: North Bank Changes Name [from Portland & Seattle Railway Company to Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway Company], Increases Capital and Will Extend". (January 30, 1908). The Morning Oregonian (Portland), p. 11.
  9. ^ "First Train on Hill Road: Regular Passenger Service Inaugurated From Local Terminus". (November 18, 1908). The Morning Oregonian, p. 11.
  10. ^ "HISTORY". SP&S Railway Historical Society Railroad. 2004. http://www.spshs.org/history.html. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  11. ^ "S.P.&S. Engine wrecked near Maupin". Wasco County History Site. http://www.wasco-history.r9esd.k12.or.us/comm/maupin/oldpics/railroad/boxcar.html. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  12. ^ "Mountain, River and Canyon Scenery to Spokane" (SP&S advertisement). (February 28, 1922). The Morning Oregonian (Portland), p. 7.

Gaertner, John T. (1990). North Bank Road. Washington State University Press. ISBN 9780874220704. 

Grande, Walt (1997). The Northwest's Own Railway, Spokane Portland & Seattle Railway and its Subsidiaries. 

External links

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