Rail in Snohomish County



Want the full scoop?

Watch the entire interview with retired railroad engineer and historian, Bob Heirman, to learn even more about the history of the railroads in Snohomish County.


Centennial Trail has a long history of moving goods and people, from Indian trail, to wagon road, to railway, and back to trail.

Lumber was the main industry in this area for over 200 years, drawing railroad expansion to Washington. Multiple companies vied for dominance, competing to reach Snohomish City first. The Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern (SLS&E) brought in crews to clear a pass secretly at night to gain the right of way and thus was the first to reach Snohomish, in 1888. SLS&E built the Sumas Line from Snohomish to Arlington in 1889, and later bought the North Pacific portion and then Burlington’s.

The Arlington 1903 wagon bridge was paved in 1932, automobiles overtook rail by the 1970’s, the logging spur to Darrington was shut down in 1990 (101 years after it opened), and air travel became commonplace - a century of transportation evolution. What will the next 100 years bring?

Fun Fact:

On a steam engine, the “fireman” is the person who starts the fire versus putting it out. It’s their job to keep the engine running by stoking the fire with coal. Learn more about the railroads in Snohomish County. Watch this “history un-cut” video interview with Bob Heirman »

  • Train along the route where Centennial Trail now runs; photo from the Machias Historical Society

    Train along the route where Centennial Trail now runs; photo from the Machias Historical Society

  • Steam train, Bob Heirman Photo Collection

    Steam train, Bob Heirman Photo Collection

  • Bob Heirman Photo Collection

    Bob Heirman Photo Collection

  • Northern Pacific Railway Timetable, Bob Heirman Photo Collection

    Northern Pacific Railway Timetable, Bob Heirman Photo Collection

  • The Darrington “logger” circa 1900

    The Darrington “logger” circa 1900

  • Historic NW Rail Map, Bob Heirman Photo Collection

    Historic NW Rail Map, Bob Heirman Photo Collection

  • Old Growth Log (image provided by the City of Arlington)

    Old Growth Log (image provided by the City of Arlington)

 

“Where once there thundered mighty mikes,
(I can see the black smoke roll.)
Now they pedal mountain bikes
And mothers take a stroll.”

 - - -

excerpt from “Centennial Trail”
a poem by Bob Heirman
,

former local railways engineer

 

 

 

 


Timeline

~1888~
SLS&E arrived in Snohomish City.

~1890~
SLS&E track completed, connects Seattle to Snohomish County, to within 6 miles of Arlington.

~1890~
SLS&E RR bridge across Stillaguamish completed. 

~1911~
Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific route to Snohomish completed.

~1914~
Great Northern RR passes west through Snohomish City on its way to Puget sound, lending the town the nickname of “The Hub”, intersected by three transcontinental rail lines.

~1929~
Stock market crash, rampant unemployment in US and Washington State.

~1930s~
Milwaukee railroad passenger service to Everett was replaced by an eight-cylinder Studebaker bus.

~1940s~
The unused Milwaukee steel tracks were pulled up and sold for scrap.

~1946~
German war maps captured in WWII listed 4 principal rail centers in NW: Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Snohomish.

~1950s~
Post war population and housing boom as soldiers returned home.

~1960s~
Construction of the Boeing Company's 747 plant at Snohomish County’s Paine Field, and completion of I-5; commerce focus shifts away from rail.

~1970s~
The Hartford (Lake Stevens) – Edgecomb (Arlington) section was abandoned in 1972.

~1975~
Sharp decline of forest products, and the large mills start closing.

~1987~
The Snohomish – Hartford (Lake Stevens) section was abandoned in 1987.

~1989~
Centennial Trail construction begins.

~1991~
Phase 1 of Centennial Trail opens.