All Aboard the North Coast Hiawatha (NCH)

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Dan Olsen

Train Attendant
Nov 19, 2023
Mile High & Mile Deep
I volunteer with the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority (BSPRA) from Butte, MT. We're the group that is working to restore passenger rail services along the historic North Coast Hiawatha NCH) route from Chicago to Seattle via the southern tiers of North Dakota and Montana. My grandparents and mother emigrated from Europe in the 19-teens to Butte and arrived on the "new" Northern Pacific passenger rail service.

The first passenger rail service into the Montana Territory was actually from Brigham City, UT to Butte in 1881. The Northern Pacific passenger rail service through Butte initiated Sep 3, 1890 and continued as the main passenger rail route along the southern tier of Montana and North Dakota until the NCH was discontinued by Amtrak Oct 6, 1979. At one point in time, Butte had 5 direct railroad connections. We're now down to 3.

My current "job" is working on a report to the FRA concerning the status of the historic rail stations along the NCH route and I came upon this site while searching for passenger rail schedules for the route for the timeframe just prior to the route's discontinuation by Amtrak. We're awaiting the announcement at the end of November 2023 by the FRA for routes being considered for restoration under their Corridor ID program.

I look forward to investigating what this site has to offer me, BSPRA and our NCH restoration project.
Welcome, Dan, to AU! Many organizations are working on this project, all of which need your donations, including:
And don't forget to join us at the Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Winter Gathering on December 9 in Centralia, WA and on Zoom. Register at Home
Mr. Hamilton -
I believe that we've corresponded before about this project. I'm the chair of BSPRA's Planning and Resource Development Committee (P&RD) which has been tasked to create an initial Station Inventory report for FRA. I've used (and attributed to AANW) the reports that you have on the Internet for the stations along the Washington NCH. Dan Bilka attends the P&RD meetings regularly. We'll be reviewing the draft of that report in our next meeting.

Here's the Washington State excerpt from the report (as it stands today, but is actively under editing):
= = = =============================
  • Washington
    In 1979, the North Coast Hiawatha Amtrak route took a northern route across Washington through Ephrata, Wenatchee via the Cascade Tunnel to Everett, Edmonds and Seattle. The Empire Builder took the Washington southern route through Pasco, Yakima, Ellensburg via Stampede Pass Tunnel to East Auburn and Seattle. This southern former Empire Builder route is being considered for the NCH passenger rail service restoration plan.
    All Aboard NorthWest performed the Washington site inventories and has a report available online. The Washington State Legislature also requested the 2020 STEER report.

  • Spokane Station is an active Intermodal Amtrak station on the Empire Builder. It is assumed that this would also become an Amtrak NCH station.
  • Connell station was demolished, but there is property in the BNSF ROW for a replacement station.
    (Not listed on the 1979 Empire Builder Schedule)
  • Pasco is an active intermodal station on the Empire Builder and is owned by the City of Pasco.
  • Toppenish station is in private use and is partially renovated. It is one of the 4 potential sites for a station on Yakima Nation Lands.
    (Not listed on the 1979 Empire Builder Schedule)
  • Yakima station is owned by BNSF and hosts a restaurant. The Local Governments are looking for potential sites for multimodal station.
  • Ellensburg station has been renovated and could be reopened for passenger service. It is privately owned and is being sold to HopeSource, a non-profit.
  • Cle Elum station is no longer standing but there is space in the BNSF rail yard.
    (not listed on the 1979 Empire Builder Schedule)
  • East Auburn station currently serves Sound Transit.
  • Seattle station is currently an active rail station and is owned by the City of Seattle.
= = ============================
If you have any corrections or additions, please let me know.
I wish them luck, but it's only 17 miles from Spokane so it seems an unlikely North Cost Hiawatha stop, maybe for a Spokane to Seattle train by way of Yakima it would make more sense.
Don’t discount a college town.
Newark, DE, home of the University of Delaware, is 12 miles, by rail, from
the Wilmington, DE Amtrak station. Several NEC Amtrak trains stop there both weekdays & weekends. It is popular with students & others.
Especially for breaks in the school’s schedule. Here is the crowd for one of the trains last Friday (11/17/23) for the Thanksgiving break. I’m sure the other trains also had a lot of passengers waiting for them.

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It also occurs to me that Cheney might be more convenient for folks coming up from the Palouse to the Empire Builder or other train than going all the way into the big city of Spokane would be.
I'd go for that. Spokane isn't exactly that convenient for me. Cheney would be, and I'd bet they wouldn't charge an arm and two legs for parking like Spokane does, as the parking lot at Spokane is city owned and operated.
Cheney, Ritzville, and Connell all were served by the Mainstreeter to the end in 1971.

Cheney was on GL routes to Seattle and Portland back then, with a couple being through Seattle <> Chicago trips. Ritzville and Connell were on the Portland line and on the Spokane <> San Francisco line via Bend and Klamath Falls. Connell was the first of the three towns to be bypassed.

Ritzville (RTZ) is the survivor, with a Thruway trip each way on Northwestern between Seattle and Spokane via Wenatchee. Recently Northwestern added a Seattle <> Spokane trip via Ellensburg that also stops in Ritzville, but it has not appeared in Amtrak's system. The new trip eastbound pulls out of King Street Station as the Cascades Train 508 arrives.