Skagit River Railway

Newhalem, WA


Photography by H. William Lancaster

The Skagit River Railway was built by Seattle City Light to haul personnel and supplies to construction projects in the Skagit River Valley, about 140 miles northeast of Seattle. From the Great Northern railhead at Rockport, a 23-mile steam-powered division was completed by 1920 to the site of the Gorge powerhouse and dam at Newhalem.

The only route to the base of the next project, the Diablo Dam, was so steep (4-5%) and winding that steam power was impractical, so a 9-mile electrified division was built. Seven trolley freight locomotives and two electric box motors from defunct Seattle and Tacoma lines provided the motive power. Four classic wooden interurban cars from the Puget Sound Electric Railway and five more from the Oregon Electric were all demotorized and used as passenger trailers. The line had no electric-powered passenger cars, although they had two old J.G. Brill rail-buses for low-volume through service with the steam division.

In 1953 plans were drawn to replace the original Gorge Dam at Newhalem with a new higher dam which would flood most of the electric division's right-of-way. Rather than rebuild the line, Seattle City Light elected to use the almost-completed parallel highway (State Route 20). The Skagit River Railway became a memory, with its last train on April 4, 1954.

The preceding excerpts are from "History of the Incline: Up and Down on the Incline Scene" by Charles E. Benjamin, originally published in the September/October 1987 issue of Trolley Fare. See the Seattle City Light web site for the complete article.

The following photos were taken by my brother, Bill Lancaster. He is an ordained minister and one of his first positions was serving a small congregation at Newhalem, WA in 1951. He would drive from his home in Ferndale, WA to Newhalem each weekend. At that time Newhalem was at the end of the (gravel) road from Rockport. These photos were taken on one of those weekend trips.

Skagit River Railway electric freight locomotive #1626. Weight 45 tons. 500 horsepower. Built by the Puget Sound Electric Railway in 1914. Original number was 626 and changed to 1626 in 1918. Sold to Tacoma Municipal Belt Line Railroad in 1929 as their #1626. Sold to Skagit River Railway in 1943. Scrapped by Dulien Steel in Seattle after 1954. (Caption by Richard S. Wilkens)

Skagit River Railway box cab electric locomotive #1628. 600 volt. Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1907. Delivered to Spokane & Inland Empire as #M99 (some question on number). The Inland Empire System in the Spokane area had about 15 or 20 of these little locomotives. Became Spokane, Coeur D'Alene & Palouse Railway #501 in 1927. To Great Northern Railway as their #501. To Tacoma Municipal Belt Line Railroad as their #1628. To Skagit River Railway in 1943. Scrapped by Dulien Steel after 1954. (Caption by Richard S. Wilkens)

Skagit River Railway Railcar #1. Built in 1927 with a Ford Model B engine. It was either built new by Skagit Steel & Iron Works of Sedro-Wooley, WA or was rebuilt from an earlier railcar by the Skagit River Railway shops. The body of this still exists in Marblemount, WA as of 9/12/99. [The Brill Railcars referred to in the "History of the Incline" article were model 55's that had two four wheel trucks. These were cars #4 which came from the Hartford Eastern Railway in 1936 and the #5 which was bought new from Brill in 1928.] (Caption by Richard S. Wilkens)

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