When state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen cuts the ribbon to open the new Stanwood train station today, it will be back to the future for the Stanwood-Camano Island area.
For an area rich in history of lumber mills, fish canneries, steamboats and trains, the new station represents a remarkable new opportunity to expand travel options for commuting, attending major events in metropolitan areas and connecting to the exciting Vancouver/Whistler area for the upcoming Olympic Games.
According to the Stanwood Historical Society account published in HistoryLink.org, in 1891 the Seattle and Montana Railway ran its tracks one mile east of the Stanwood town plat and built a depot to connect with Bellingham and Seattle. My family’s old hardware store on Hewitt Avenue in Everett used to receive material from the Stanwood-Camano region on this line.
This depot site was not convenient for shipping grain and shingles — that was more oriented toward waterborne transportation so the Hall and Hall Railroad was built to connect Stanwood with the depot at East Stanwood. It was called the “Shortest Railroad in the World” in the 1930s, and school children used it regularly.
Passenger service between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., on the Pacific International was discontinued in 1981. Washington state and Amtrak stepped up in 1994 to restart passenger service and now two trains operate daily.
Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Haugen, Stanwood Mayor Dianne White and community leaders, Amtrak, the state transportation department and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway collaborated on the new station. Now area residents can board the train locally without having to travel to Everett or Mount Vernon.
What is the future of rail service? Washington state has applied for $1.3 billion in a new $8 billion federal high speed rail program. The money would be used for track improvements, new train sets and safer crossings. Since 1994, our state has invested more than $1 billion in the Vancouver, B.C.-to-Eugene corridor and will compete well for the federal funds. We have strong support from Rep. Rick Larsen and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell recently signed a bi-national agreement to explore higher speed rail on the corridor. On Dec. 9, legislators and local leaders will meet with their British Columbia counterparts to explore investments in the rail corridor on both sides of the border.
How about the old “interurban” regional trains? Street cars and the Everett-to-Tacoma interurban rail line dominated the scene until the 1920s, when the Pacific Highway was built. With an eye toward tradition, a group of leaders from North Puget Sound (dubbed the Farmhouse Gang) has been pushing for alternatives to the increasingly crowded I-5 corridor with better bus, train and ferry service in the five county region. The successful new Intercounty Connector bus partnership linking Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Stanwood, Camano Island and Everett is one of the results of the effort and has experienced growing ridership.
As we see faster Amtrak express trains connecting Vancouver and Eugene, there is a need for more frequent regional service between Bellingham and Everett that can supplement the international trains and connect with Sounder trains in Everett.
A new, inexpensive, biofuel-powered, bike-carrying “diesel multiple unit” train has emerged nationally. Patterned after the old self-propelled Budd cars of the past, these locomotive-less trains are quiet, easily maintained and can be used in partnership with the Amtrak Cascades service for a variety of special events like the Tulip Festival, Stanwood Camano Fair, Tulalip concerts, Seahawks and Mariners games. Additional stations at Tulalip/Marysville and Lakewood are being considered.
For now, let’s celebrate the return of passenger rail service to the Stanwood-Camano area and reflect on an earlier, less hectic day in when travel, community and commerce melded seamlessly in the twin cities.