One of the things I am going to do with this blog is some brief overviews of destinations you can visit by private rail car and what types of tourist and recreational activities that are available. I’m calling it Destination Spotlight. The theme of the destinations is certainly railroad oriented but I will try to mention some of the non-railroad highlights at a location.
On this first installment of the Destination Spotlight is an easy one for me, because I live here, in Seattle WA.
Rain City, Emerald Gateway, and the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are names synonymous with Seattle. When many people think of Seattle they often associate it with its famous (or maybe infamous?) wet weather, Boeing, Microsoft, Pike Place Market, and the Space Needle. What many don’t associate Seattle with is that through and through, it’s a railroad town. At one point the city streets in the now more commercialized SODO District (South of Downtown) was an epicenter of railroad operations in the pacific northwest. There were so many tracks in laid the city streets that crossing one road you would encounter as many as 4 or 5 different railroads. All parallel and fighting for customers on the same block. Seattle even boasted two train stations literally next door to each other. The King Street Station housed the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads while the other hosted the Oregon and Washington Navigation Company (Union Pacific) and the Milwaukee Road. Both stations remarkably still stand. They both have even been restored showcasing most of their stunning original architecture. King Street Station is still in operation and is the base of operations for Amtrak’s Cascades service, The Empire Builder, The Coast Starlight, and Sounder Commuter Rail (Sound Transit) trains. Union Station remains mostly intact and is the headquarters of Sound Transit. The lower track level was turned into a bus/light rail station while the Great Hall of Union Station was fully restored and is available to rent for events.
Union Station Great Hall – Joe Mabel Photo
King Street Station Waiting Room – Zheng Zhou Photo
It’s hard to put into terms how hideous King Street was before it’s restoration/renovation was. In 1960s the hand carved coffered ceiling of the waiting room, balcony, and second level arcade was covered by an awful drop ceiling. The marble was removed from the columns and the ornamental plaster was sheared off around the drop ceiling. For years the upper floors were used as office space by the freight railroads and lastly as a division office for the BNSF Railway which sold the station to the City of Seattle for $10 in 2008. After $47 million was spent on restoration and upgrades the project was completed and King Street Station was rededicated on April 24, 2013.
While the train stations themselves are now a pleasing destination for rail travelers, King Street itself is ideally placed in downtown. You walk out the main doors of the station and you are greeted by the sight of Century Link Field, home of the NFL football team the Seahawks. Right next door is Safeco Field, home of the MLB baseball team the Mariners. You are also nearly in the center of the hotel, bar, restaurant and International district. If you like a wide variety of great foods, you won’t have to go far to find a welcoming place to suit your needs. About one mile away is the Pike Place Fish Market and Seattle Waterfront. The Pike Place Fish Market is well known for the tossing of large fish. I know this may sound ridiculous but the employees put on fairly entertaining, and free, show.
Pike Place Market
The waterfront hosts a pleasant view of Puget Sound. You can further enjoy this view by taking a harbor dinner cruise or a spin on the Seattle Great Wheel. Also found on the waterfront is the Seattle Aquarium. Let’s not forget BNSF’s Scenic Subdivision double track mainline also passes by.
A little further north is the Space Needle and the famous monorail to nowhere. The 1.4-mile line was built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Many attempts were made to extend the line and to put it into use as a viable public transportation service but nothing ever came to fruition. You can still ride the monorail complete with its retro stainless steel skirts and large windows for a one-way fare of $2.25.
While taking an excursion on a private passenger car is an experience all by itself, your destination and intermediate stops are part of that adventure. Seattle, despite its notoriously gloomy winter weather, is the complete opposite in the spring and summer that are full of dry, warm, and cloudless blue-sky days. This overview only scratches the surface of what you can do in Seattle. With two long distance Amtrak trains beginning or ending their journeys makes it a superb rail destination city.