Seattle’s Union Station, home to a private railway company in its heyday and now Sound Transit headquarters, opened 100 years ago tomorrow. ST, the National Park Service, and the Alliance for Pioneer Square are celebrating:

Please join us for a community open house celebrating the 100th anniversary of Union Station and the launch of “Trail to Treasure”, a historic interpretive trail through Pioneer Square. The celebration will feature walking tours, information about planning efforts affecting the neighborhood, a live brass band and model train exhibit.

23 Replies to “Union Station Turns 100”

  1. Last night as I was waiting on-board 1702, I got to thinking about the future of commuter rail here in the PNW.

    I started to think about the day when we may get to see Union Station used (again) for real, heavy-duty passenger rail. I’d love to see King Street used for the Southline commuters, and have Union for the Northline, or vice versa.

    Kind of like Boston’s South and North Stations(always a blast there, imho). Maybe someday ridership will be heavy enough to justify it, just maybe.

    Happy B-day Union Station! I think you’re much better looking than ugly King Street.

  2. This may be a bit OT, but can anyone explain to me which track Union Station serves? I was under the impression King Street Station was the only station with platforms. Is it just that Union Station could serve the eastern most tracks of the BNSF mainline there?

    1. It doesn’t serve any tracks now. I think it used to have its own until the 1970’s. I’m guessing they were on the eastern side of 4th, maybe where the busway/link are now. I found this article that says:

      “After UP left [in 1971] so too did any chance of seeing passenger trains ever again at the station. The approaches and staging tracks at the building were soon demolished to make way for the ever-growing development of downtown Seattle and large skyscrapers now stand where these tracks once stood.

      Amazingly, while the building was left for dead, it somehow survived and was beautifully restored in the 1990s, reopening to the public in 1999.”

      1. The reason we have Historic Preservation laws is to protect buildings just like this – there are now over 85,000 structures in the US on the National Register of Historic Places.

      2. Yup. The UP tracks ran roughly down the corridor where the Busway is today, and the yard was spread mostly around the area between 4th and 6th, Holgate to Dearborn, with a smaller one between 6th & Airport to the southeast (some fragments of this one still exist).

        From everything I can find, there was never anything north of Alaska Street that connected the Northern Pacific & Great Northern rails on the East of 4th with the Union Pacific on the West; 4th Ave was always a barrier between the two.

    2. Union Station never served the BNSF tracks. It was a stub ended terminal and the tracks were located on the south side where the office buildings and parking garage are now at. There was also at least one track along the east side of the station approximately where International District station is located.

      Trains accessed Union Station on tracks that were located where the bus way is today.

    3. I was thinking the same thing.

      I remember them talking about redo-ing Union Station two decades ago — yet, when I was using the ID bus tunnel station it still seems completely un-integrated.

      In fact the whole operation is downright dowdy. I remember standing on the (very narrow, ugly and crowded) Sounder ID station and looking across the track to the Amtrak station to which there was no access.
      (Of course in the other direction it looks like the basement of the Addams family…or maybe Carlsbad Caverns….)

  3. The mighty Milwaukee Road served Union Station until 1961, as well. Much of that time, served by the Milwaukee’s gorgeous electric locomotives, such as the Bi-polars.

    1. Milwaukee Road passenger service to Chicago ended 50 years ago when the Olympian Hiawatha was discontinued on May 22, 1961. The Milwaukee Road inaugurated passenger service to Seattle 100 years ago on May 28, 1911.

      You can see what Union Station looked like on the track side of the building about 23 minutes into this video about the Olympian Hiawatha:

      1. Paul-

        Thanks for linking to this video – my mom is from Montana and we took the train to/from a couple of times in the 1950s and 1960s. Gone are the days of 6 trains a day east from Seattle through Spokane and Montana to the Twin Cities and Chicago, but thankfully we still have the Empire Builder to show what long distance train travel can be.

  4. I plan on being at this one – good for Union Station! King Street isn’t looking so bad either, but it is slow work getting that old lady back on its feet again.

    1. The Milwaukee Road was electrified over Snoqualmie Pass from Tacoma and Seattle to Othello, WA between about 1920 and 1972. Technically, the line to Tacoma was electrified first and the line to Seattle was electrified a few years later.

      1. Actually 1919 over the Cascades to Tacoma. The last miles from Black River Junction to Seattle in the late 20s. I remember watching the Box Cab electrics along Airport Way in Seattle in the 60s. Big fun! You can still see some of the concrete platforms that supported the catenary poles in SODO.

        The Rocky Mountain Division was the first to be electrified, I believe in 1914, or so, perhaps a couple of years earlier. Harlowton, MT to Avery, ID. The non-electrified gap was always between Avery, ID and Othello, WA.

  5. And, by the way, all:

    I realize that I sometimes get cynical, or worse, on this blog. Part of the reason is that I saw much of a great transportation system dismanteled in my 59 years of existence. That is why, a few CEOs writing a letter to Bellevue leaders, does not make me particularly optimistic. I lived in Kirkland from 1964 until 1990. Kirkland, believe it or not, actually had some progressive leadership. Bellevue, in my humble opinion, did not.

    Kemper Freeman, and the right-wing faction of the Bellevue City Council, are very unlikely to change their opinions on transportation. Kemper never did. And, likely will not.

      1. Kemper’s old. Once he’s gone, and the kids sell the mall off to Westfield or someone like that, Bellevue will sing a new tune.

        As for Union Station, Happy Birthday!!! I used to go to concerts and parties there back in the ’80’s. You would be hard pressed to find a place less conducive to music (acoustically, it’s a paper towel roll) but I had some good times there,

  6. I believe Kemper was recently displaced from a committee position he’d held since the glaciers. Suspect that locally, his own trade is rapidly coming into the hands of businesspeople whose personal experience elsewhere convinces them that projects like LINK do nothing but benefit their own holdings.

    The main lesson Union Station carries, and the chief value of historic preservation, is to make every present architect and their employer think before they open their first “Revit” file: “What will this building be good for in a hundred years?” If answer is “a hole with a fence and Keep Out sign”…delete the file and open another template.

    Mark Dublin

  7. I live 1 block north of Union Station & have been in the neighborhood since the mid-80’s. Standing on the Main St. bridge over the South Portal of the now BNSF rail tunnel & looking South one can see that the wall along the tracks angles away to the SouthEast as though there was a siding that may have run through under Union Station to connect to the Union Pacific trains, so there may have been a connection through to the north at one time. I also remember seeing what looked like a closed up tunnel portal under Main St. just west of 5th Ave. The Metro Bus Tunnel tubes started drilling just below this heading north.
    So much has changed since then. The biggest improvement was redoing the station, as the basement level was a problem for the police, & I heard that the fire dept. had to put out fires down there set by the homeless.


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