Cascading Through History in USA’s Longest Railroad, Found in WA
I heard that the longest train tunnel in the United States was located right here in Washington State. Did you know that?
The Early History of the Longest Railroad Tunnel in the USA
The first section of track was built about 65 miles east of Everett Washington and completed in 1900, after 3 years of construction. The original tunnel was only 2.6 miles long and suffered from a fume problem with the coal-burning trains. The trains would be working harder because of the steep grade climbing over the pass, which would make them produce even more fumes.
How Did They Solve the Fume Problem in the Tunnel?
In 1909 they solved the fume problem by electrifying the tunnel section of the track. They used three fully electric locomotives that were built by GM with 1,500 horsepower. It took all three electric locomotives used at once to pull trains through the tunnel. The entire system was powered by hydroelectric power that came from a hydroelectric plant near Leavenworth. There was one main problem that still had to be solved.
Snow Avalanche Disaster Causes Tunnel Upgrade
The original tunnel was troubled by avalanches from the beginning, but then disaster struck. An avalanche killed around 100 people near the west portal and is still considered the deadliest avalanche in US history. After the disaster, plans were started to build a new but much longer tunnel that still exists today.
What is the Longest Railroad Tunnel in the United States?
The longest train or railroad tunnel in the USA is named the Cascade Tunnel and is located in the mountains of Washington State. The new section of tunnel was finished in 1929 and was much longer but with a lower elevation than the original. It is used to carry everything from food supplies to airliners. Watch the Instagram video below if you don't believe the airliner claim I make.
The tunnel is a whopping 7.8 miles long and connects Berne with Scenic Hot Springs from Chelan to King Counties. It took 3 years to build and reduced the time to make the journey in half from over 4 hours to just under 2 hours.
The New Cascade Tunnel Gets New Upgrades
The new tunnel also needed new locomotives and 5 new electric train engines were built with single-phase power instead of the old three-phase power. The trains were also fit with regenerative braking that allowed regenerated power to be used by another train or back to the utility company.
Is the Cascade Tunnel Still Used Today?
Yes, the tunnel is still run and operated by BNSF Railway but is limited to 28 trains per day. The limit is because of safety and ventilation issues they still struggle with because the tunnel is so long. The speed is limited to 30 mph for passenger trains and 25 mph for freight trains. That means it is possible for you to ride through the longest railroad tunnel in the United States safely on the Empire Builder passenger train run by Amtrak.
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