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cascade curmudgeon



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cascade curmudgeon
PostWed Oct 28, 2020 8:45 pm 
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This thread is a response to a request in a trip report for information on the construction of the Cascade Tunnel which runs under Stevens Pass.   There is, of course, a Wikipedia page entry for “Cascade Tunnel” which has some references.  Also information can be found at the Great Northern Historical society https://www.gnrhs.org/  and, especially, at the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archives http://www.pnrarchive.org/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/SitePages/Home.aspx which, I think, has the actual engineering drawings.

The Stevens Pass Nordic Center  “Depot” is only a few hundred yards from the east portal of the tunnel.  They have several  photo albums with pictures of the construction of the tunnel.  The “Guthrie Loop” Nordic  trail is at the site where a vertical shaft to the mid-point of the tunnel was constructed and workers dug from the mid-point toward the portals to meet the construction coming from the portals.  Near the summit of the “East Portal” trail one can still see the old surveyor blaze which runs over the mountains above the tunnel, although it is not as obvious now as it was 25 years ago when I first stared skiing there.  At the west portal of the tunnel, which is just a short distance up the old Cascade Highway at Scenic, you can see the (boarded-up) entrance to the pilot tunnel which ran alongside the main tunnel and was used to remove the tailings from the tunnel construction.

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No matter how cynical you become, it's not enough to keep up.  Jane Wagner/Lily Tomlin
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Dusty Trale
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PostFri Oct 30, 2020 3:21 pm 
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For additional information on building the 7.8 mile long Great Northern Railway Cascade Tunnel under Stevens Pass can be found in the book, "The Great Northern Railway, A Pictorial Study" by Charles & Dorothy Wood. It had photos of the construction, some plans and other info. The first scheduled train, a passenger train went through the new tunnel on January 12, 1929.

Another good source of info for building the tunnel is in the magazine, "Railway and Marine News" for January 1929. Vol. 26, No. 1. "Conquering The Cascades" Section, Great Northern's Mountain Refinement Program, 8-Mile Tunnel, Electrification, Chumstick Cut-Off, A. Gutherie & Co., Inc., Contractors. Cost was 50 cents per copy. This issue has all the facts, data, plans and photos for building the tunnel. Construction began on Dec. 28, 1925 and finished on Jan. 4th 1929, a little over 3 years. It cost in 1920's dollar, $14 million. Built faster then Seattle's new much shorter waterfront tunnel.

With the new tunnel the Great Northern Railway cut the mileage from Scenic on the west side to Bern on the east side of Steven Pass from 18 miles to ten. The new tunnel has a grade of 1.565 per cent west to east. Passenger trains saved 1 hour and freight trains 3 hours by using the new tunnel route. It also saved the Great Northern Railway $500,000 annually for maintaining six miles of snow sheds on the line from Scenic to Wellington (Tye). This is the section that is now the Iron Goat Trail.

Steam locomotives could not use the 7.8 mile tunnel because of their smoke, so the GN line from Skykomish to Wenatchee used electric locomotives until 1956. The electric locomotives were half as costly to operate as a steam locomotive, but twice as costly as the diesel/electric locomotives. In July 1956 the GN had installed a ventilating system for the 7.8 mile tunnel. There is a door on the east portal that closes as trains go in and out of the tunnel, and 600 horse power fan motors to blow fresh air through the tunnel to clean out the diesel flumes. This way trains no longer had to change locomotives at Skykomish or Wenatchee. The GN had several classes of electric locomotive they used from 1900 to 1956. The largest being the two class W built by General Electric in 1946. They each had 5,000 horse power. When the electrics stopped running in 1956, GN tried selling these two big ones, but they proved to be too big and too complex to be interesting to other railroads, they were scrapped in 1959. Some of the smaller electrics went to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The 7.8 mile long Cascade Tunnel is still used today by BNSF and Amtrak.
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