The railroad in Edmonds: A link to the world | History Files

By Tim Raetzloff | Jan 13, 2019

The railroad is a source of controversy in Edmonds. Many wish it weren’t here. But if you ask in many other towns in the state, most would say that Edmonds was fortunate to have the railroad.

I was just looking at some photos of Withrow, Washington. A local told me that Withrow once had multiple banks, a school, church, farm implement dealer and a thriving community.

About 30 people live there now, and Withrow hasn’t been incorporated in decades. Probably not by coincidence, the railroad left Withrow 35 years ago.

It may be a chicken-egg situation.

The railroad left because business on that branch was declining. The railroad left, and the towns withered and mostly died.

Edmonds is blessed in that it probably would go on just fine if the BNSF decided to stop running trains through town. But it wasn’t always so. About a thousand people showed up when the new Edmonds depot was dedicated in January 1957.

That depot, the one we still have, was a link to the world. The interstate highway system didn’t yet exist, and it was easier to take a train to Chicago than drive the two-lane highways of the era.

The train got you to Chicago in two days from Edmonds. It would be at least a four-day, strenuous drive in 1957. Few could afford an airline ticket, and even that was a seven- or eight-hour flight.

Railroad Avenue was still dirt when the depot opened in 1957. Photos of that day show people standing and walking in the dirt to take part in the celebration.

Edmonds was a steam town, and then a diesel town.

But elsewhere in the region, there were electric engines. Great Northern Railway switched to electric engines in Skykomish for the run through the 8 mile Stevens Pass Tunnel. The electric engines ran to Wenatchee, and then steam took over again.

Diesel engines came along, and the last steam engine left Edmonds in the early 1950s. An historical photo and newspaper article is embedded near the bus zone south of the ferry depot that tells the story of the last steam engine through town.

Diesels burned cleaner than steam, and by 1956 the Great Northern Railway decided it didn’t need electric engines, either. The last run came in July of that year.

Ted Cleveland, the fireman on the last electric engine, still lives in Skykomish. Now diesels pull trains through the Stevens Pass tunnel, but big fans suck out the fumes between trains, and it takes 15 minutes or so before the next train can go through.

I rode through that tunnel on the Leavenworth Snow Train three years ago. We boarded in Edmonds, went to Leavenworth for an afternoon, and rode back to Edmonds.

The trip was enjoyable, but the time in the tunnel is just boring. The Snow Train didn’t run in 2018 because of controversy with current administration of AMTRAK.

Whether it will ever run again is uncertain.


Electrics never ran through Edmonds, but were common south and east of Seattle. The Milwaukee Road ran electrics across Snoqualmie Pass until the early 1970s. That route is now a hiking/biking trail.

The line was electrified from Seattle to Othello. Then steam, and/or diesel to Avery, Idaho. The electric engines ran again east into Montana.

The closest thing to electric engines in Edmonds was the Everett-Seattle Interurban. The Interurban had several stops east of Edmonds: Lake Ballinger, Seattle Heights and Esperance.

Lynnwood has one of the preserved Interurban cars in a shelter on Poplar Way, just east of I-5. That location is close to where the Alderwood Manor station on the Interurban was located.

Lynnwood has also preserved at that location buildings of the demonstration chicken farm. I don’t know exactly what the connections of electric trolleys and chickens may be, other than nearness of location.

And folks in Edmonds might just say, “It’s Lynnwood.”


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