Milwaukee Road: Seattle/Tacoma

Milwaukee Road: Seattle/Tacoma

Avery is of course the western end of the noted 440 mile long Rockies electrification. However the company also ran another electrics division that traversed the Cascades in Washington state, and these tracks led to Seattle and Tacoma. The latter was of course the absolute extremity of any of the Milwaukee’s electrified lines even though there were some other non-electrified lines the company operated to the west of Tacoma.

The former Milwaukee Road’s route in Tacoma has been largely demolished and a brand new ‘metro’ railway built in its place. But there are surprises in terms of the former railway and it is these we will look at – as well as the stations and yards the company once used.

The previous two posts MILW picture gallery #1 and MILW picture gallery #2 covered the Milwaukee (or the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) between Harlowton and Avery plus a bonus section covering Tacoma. This is now a separate feature due to the problem of coding issues with Gutenberg which centres around the issues of the Flickr coding not being compatible with Gutenberg and it has been supplemented with additional images and information to make it a substantial post in its own right.


The main part of the electrified Cascades Division of the Milwaukee Road was from from Othello to Black River Junction where it split into two branches – one for Seattle and the other for Tacoma. The wires reached Tacoma first before reaching Seattle, and that was largely because Tacoma was seen as a more primary objective. Also there were issues with acquiring running rights from Black River Junction to Seattle as this wasn’t outright Milwaukee trackage but rather lines that belonged to other companies such as the Northern Pacific.

Although there was full electric running to Seattle the arrangements at Union station were less than perfect due to restrictions which meant the Milwaukee Road had to run its trains out of formation (eg the wrong way round.) This was less than ideal compared to Tacoma where the company either owned the track outright or had full trackage access and it could do all the shunting/marshalling it wished for both its passenger and freight trains.

Even though Seattle was often billed as the ultimate destination for the company’s famous expresses (including the Hiawatha) the situation there wasn’t really conductive to passenger operations. The trains had to be taken onward to Tacoma to be marshalled properly for their return trip to Chicago.

Bi Polar E2 at the head of a Milwaukee Road train at Seattle Union station in 1952. Source: Twitter.

Milwaukee Road’s Class E3 23A/B (these locomotives were known as ‘Quills’) leaving Seattle in 1956. The Quills were not quite as successful as the company’s Bi-Polars, Boxcabs or Little Joes. The final E3 examples were scrapped in 1957, just a year after this photograph had been taken. Source: Twitter.

Inside the Black River Junction cabin. The map as shown indicated Seattle at right, Renton/Othello towards the bottom and Tacoma to the left. Source: Towns and Nature.

Boxcab E25 with a freight heading south past Black River Junction for Tacoma. The MILW’s main route to the east (eg to Othello) is off to the right of this picture. The Boxcab’s freight has possibly originated from the Milwaukee’s Van Asselt yard south of Seattle and the train is about to switch onto the Milwaukee’s own tracks (at far left) towards Tacoma. Source: Oil-Electric Blog.

Bi-Polar with eastbound train near Black River Junction. Source: History Link.

Bi-Polar E3 at the head of a Tacoma bound train in Renton during 1951. It would first go to Seattle and then south to Tacoma, passing Black River Junction twice en route. Source: Flickr.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Milwaukee’s Pacific extension was the street running in Renton – about two miles east of Black River Junction! The track wasn’t owned by the MILW – instead the company had running rights as it did on a number of lines in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

E33 in Renton. Source: Imgur.

Boxcab E47 leads an eastbound dead freight in 1971 – the last years of electric operations in the area. Source: RR Picture Archive.

This trackage in Renton was by no means the sole street running section to be found on the Milwaukee Road however it was the only section to be electrified.

Houser Street, Renton, in 1979 just a year before the MILW left the area for good. Source: Flickr.

The tracks are still there running down the centre of Houser Way/Houser Street etc. Trains these days are operated by Burlington Northern who manage a fair bit of former MILW track in the locality. There however isn’t a direct route from Renton to Tacoma these days as the Milwaukee’s connecting chord at Black River Junction has been removed. Freights have to reverse via the Burlington Northern’s intermodal yards in the direction of Seattle.


After much moving around in terms of where the company’s passenger trains terminated in Tacoma, including sharing of the area’s stations with other rail companies, during the 1950s a modern station was finally built built to serve the company’s trains. It didn’t last very long however for seven years after opening the company’s passenger services ceased altogether and the new station was demolished sometime in the late sixties or the early seventies.

The Milwaukee Road’s modern terminus at Tideflats, Tacoma. Opened 1954. Closed 1961. Compare the view with that below! Source: Wikipedia.

The site of the former Tacoma station in 2014 sixty years after it had opened. The Bi-Polar locomotive would have been stood just to the left of the electric pole. Source: Google Streets.

Due to the restricted access that was afforded on the company’s celebrated single track trestle (more of that later) a new station was built n the port of Tacoma itself. It was somewhat remote from the city however. The terminus was sited amongst the company’s large freight yards serving the port of Tacoma and wasn’t too well received because it was in the midst of these huge freight yards plus it was far from the centre of Tacoma itself where the passengers most wanted to be.

Night time shot of the Milwaukee’s brand new terminus in Tacoma. There were complaints it was far removed from the main part of the city compared to previous sites the company had used. A EP2 (Bipolar) locomotive can just be seen at left.

The 1954 station was built adjacent to the company’s Tideflats freight yards thus it was sited right within the port area of the city. The new structure was in use for just seven years when the company’s transcontinental passenger expresses were withdrawn completely. The site is now a car park/vehicle holding area for the Port of Tacoma.

Milwaukee freight at Tideflats, Tacoma, in the 1970s. Electric services had ceased for sometime however the wires were left intact for a good while after. Mount Rainer forms a spectacular background. Source: Pinterest.

The first station to be opened by the Milwaukee company (at the time known as the Puget Sound or Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Puget Sound Railway) was on the other side of Tacoma and this one was rather more centrally located. The location was where the present Pacific Avenue in Central Tacoma is.

The Milwaukee’s Tacoma station in 1912. The trestle began at the far end of the station. The alignment & station formerly belonged to the Tacoma Eastern Railroad Company. Source: History Link

Current view taken in 2018 via Google Streets of the approximate location where the Milwaukee’s former station once stood.

The former Milwaukee alignment including the famous trestle the threaded through the centre of the city is no-more. However a brand new railway – the Tacoma Light Rail Project – has been built in its place. Here are some views showing the former Milwaukee’s line and the trestle itself as well as current views of the Light Rail infrastructure.

This is E 26th Street bridge in Tacoma. It was built in 2018. Source: Google Streets.

This work was done as part of the Tacoma Light Rail project, and explains why there is now double track as well as several new stations. What its impressive about this is the new bridge has a Milwaukee Road sign on both sides plus the dates the Pacific extension was in operation.

Close up of the Milwaukee Road sign and the company’s dates of operation in Washington State. Source: Google Streets.

Here’s why they did the new bridge up with a Milwaukee Road sign – because the previous had one too! In fact this was a regular thing to do around here. Some of the other MILW bridges elsewhere had these too but the Coast division made a particular task of it. Source: Flickr

That’s not the end of it! This was once a famous line for one reason. Google Streets (no later then 2015) reveals something interesting…..

The bridge linked to the once famous trestle through the city! Here’s the end bit where the Milwaukee’s station began – with the old bridge seen on Google Streets – the trestle was in fact ‘s’ shaped though no-one can explain exactly why but it seems it was to avoid some swampy bits of ground.

The trestle gave the company direct access to its centrally placed freight yard and station at the junction of E 25th and A Streets. This site formerly belonged to the Tacoma Eastern Railroad but was bought by the Milwaukee in 1910.

The trestle stretching away into the distance towards the port and ultimately Black River Junction where the Milwaukee met its other route from Seattle. Source: Google Streets

Milwaukee freight on the Tacoma trestle during 1978. Just two years later the company would close more than 2000 miles of its highly esteemed Pacific Extension. Source: Pinterest.

That closure was of course a means to stave off bankruptcy and to ensure the Milwaukee company, a major Class One US railroad, could manage the remaining assets it had. The company’s entire network west of Miles City, Montana, ceased to exist and a greater focus was placed upon its remaining operations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The company’s final fall from grace was deferred by just a few years and in 1986 the Milwaukee Road was no more.

The Chicago Milwaukee St Paul & Pacific Railroad produced a commemorative brochure to mark the end of its electric services. Here’s the link: The Milwaukee Electrification – A Proud Era Passes (in PDF format from Streamliner Memories.)

The full list of posts featuring the Milwaukee’s Rockies Mountains electric division:


Electric Railroad through the Rockies

Electric Railroad through the Rockies #2

Milwaukee Road then and now – Harlowton to Avery:

Part One: Harlowton to Butte

Part Two: Butte to Missoula

Part Three: Missoula to Saltese

Part Four: Dominion to Avery

Milwaukee Picture Galleries:

MILW picture gallery #1

MILW picture gallery #2

MILW picture gallery – Seattle/Tacoma