National Train Day: The Seattle Connection

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National Train Day: The Seattle Connection

By: Beckie Layton

May 10, 2014, marked the seventh annual National Train Day and the 145th anniversary of the creation of the nations first transcontinental railroad by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869.  Amtrak created the holiday in 2008 as a way to keep this important history alive, to bring information to the public and draw attention to the advantages of rail travel.  

Seattle, Tacoma and the Puget Sound region share in a rich railroad history. Theirs is the story of the second transcontinental railroad line.  In 1864 Congress chartered the Northern Pacific Railroad land grants that totaled 60-million acres that flanked the planned route from Minnesota to Puget Sound. This began many years of complications and financial ups and downs. They were unable to meet the completion date of July 4, 1976 stipulated in the grant, which resulted in a loss of some of their land holdings. Construction was slow due to inadequate funding, inaccessibility to the route and harsh winters.

The Northern Pacific line received needed financing from a Philadelphia financier in 1870, which got the Western terminus to Tacoma. After many more years of dealings, the Northern Pacific acquired the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern, which gave the company a line to Sumas at the Canadian border.  It wasn’t until 1899, that the King Street Station in Pioneer Square, in the heart of Seattle, was open for business serving both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads.

The National Train Day holiday is held each year on the Saturday closest to May 10th to honor the pounding of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah, which marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Each year, more than 200 communities host events across the country in railroad stations and railroad museums.  Larger events typically display equipment and railroad cars as well as many family oriented activities. Children will find the Chugginton Play Area at most every event. Celebrity spokespersons are often on hand as well.

The 2014 National Train Day celebration in Seattle is a good example of a big-city event. It was held in the historic King Street Station. Speakers for the opening ceremony included Alan Boyd, former Amtrak President, Seattle Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim and Ron Pate, Director of Rail Division of Washington State Department of Transportation.  The Amtrak Coast Starlight train was on hand for tours, and a scale model of the Mt. Rainier line was on display.  There were many exhibitors on hand and Tom Douglas provided culinary demonstrations and samples in a special San Francisco Arcade Car. Historical pictures and artifacts of Puget Sound’s rich railroad journey were also on display.

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