Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday: Railfanning Tradition

Special holiday Sounder train #1798 passed the BNSF Interbay Yard on its journey from Seattle to Everett, Washington on 31-December-2008

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - The "holiday season" at the end of the year is a time for traditions with family and friends. The closest thing I have to a railfanning tradition is to head out to survey the Seattle Terminal (in Washington state) with my longtime friend Bret Gray. Sometime in the afternoon, we would meet (usually at Argo, a junction in the southern part of Seattle) and might explore anywhere from the Salmon Bay Drawbridge or Ballard in the north to Ruston along the Tacoma waterfront to the south, but normally we would venture no farther north than Interbay Yard and no farther south than "the north end of South Seattle" (which the railroad had thankfully re-named "Boeing" by 2007).

In this territory was the majority of the interesting places in the BN (later BNSF) Seattle Terminal Dispatcher's district, including the Interbay roundhouse, the King Street passenger station, the Amtrak (and later Sounder commuter rail) coach yard, the coach wye, Stacy Street Yard, Union Pacific's Argo Yard and service facility, and a glimpse at the mostly trailer traffic South Seattle Yard. The epicenter of activity was the onetime site of Argo Tower, the northern terminus of UP trains and often a place where BNSF trains would make their pickups from Stacy Street Yard. Generally speaking, we would remain somewhere around Argo well after dark, usually until the passage of the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles.

The first documented "holiday run of the terminal" seems to have taken place on 1 January 1999, when we saw only the inbound BNSF "Z" train, an outbound BNSF garbage train, and the Coast Starlight during the evening. On 24 December 2000, we did the first of our Christmas Eve runs, noting the outbound BNSF "Z" train's light power, the last southbound Amtrak Cascades, the southbound UP "Barnes Sprint," and the last northbound Cascades. On 24 December 2001, I noted that it was becoming a tradition, and we saw the "Barnes Sprint," UP's Hinkle-Seattle manifest, BNSF's Seattle-Pasco manifest, the last northbound Cascades, and the northbound Coast Starlight. While we did meet in 2002, it was after Christmas and earlier in the day, and then the tradition essentially died for some time before we revived it on 23 December 2006 (a Saturday), seeing five BNSF trains and a very late Amtrak. On 22 December 2007 (another Saturday), we headed out to see five BNSF trains, four UP trains, and two Amtrak Cascades trains.

This year, New Year's Eve was selected for our tradition of "running the terminal". While logging a substantial amount of power at the BNSF Interbay Roundhouse, the first train of the day passed, a special holiday Sounder bound for Everett. Spending most of the evening near the old Rainier Ice spur at Argo, we ultimately saw four Sounder trains, five Amtrak trains, three Union Pacific trains, and six BNSF trains. Most notably, Amtrak's Coast Starlight came in from Los Angeles on time for the first time during our holiday runs since 2001--a fitting optimistic note on which to end 2008.

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