2009 Seattle (Tukwilla) Convention Report

by John Adams


Our 2009 Convention began Wednesday afternoon with registration. We then headed for dinner at Outback, followed by the Membership meeting. At the membership meeting we discussed the Expediter and how it may evolve with new printing techniques, as well as our expanded website. We also discussed a number of alternatives for future convention sites.


Planning started early in the morning for a day of train watching, but we met a number of challenges from the start. Stevens Pass was closed for a steel gang and Stampede Pass had only 1 train scheduled for the day. Because of this we opted to head south to Tacoma to search for trains there.

We began at Tacoma’s D St Overpass, where we just missed a Talgo, but did get some shots of the yards and engine terminal. We then headed for the 21st St Overpass and were able to watch some track work at the site of a recent derailment. Unfortunately it was the MOW crew that informed us of “Bloody Thursday”, where the Longshoremen struck for the day to honor their comrades who had been injured on the job. With word of the strike and a long MOW window we decided to head further south and took off for Centralia, where there was another yard facility. It was in Centralia where we found lots of trains, watched a locomotive pickup and were able to get some great shots of BNSF, UP and Amtrak trains. On the way back we stopped at Steilacoom. Here we found several trains, plus some beautiful scenery, including a view of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Then it was back to Tukwilla, a quick carry-out dinner and the Board Meeting.

After the Board Meeting, we had an excellent presentation by John Strauss who worked with the passenger service out of Seattle, both for the GN and BN, changing to a career in education at the inception of Amtrak. John was able to explain the passenger service from the Pacific Northwest and indeed across the entire BN system from the times of the predecessor roads right to the present. John also regaled us with some excellent stories of his years on the railroad, including a fantastic hunting story of how the engine crew on the Empire Builder in the GN era actually used an open nose door on the lead unit, judicious use of the horn and a large sack to catch enough pheasants to feed the crew and passengers. He also told us how crew members lived on the trains, and sometimes got left behind if they strayed from the train, even for company business. John told us of the controversies surrounding many of the GN, BN and later Amtrak trains on the BN lines. For example, I was able to find some interesting history of the Illinois Zephyr on Amtrak that I was unaware of, despite watching the train for years. John is a wealth of information about passenger service, and operations in general. If you haven’t read his Chronology, it is truly worth ordering from the Company Store.

John was also able to answer several questions. He felt that after several BN presidents who were opposed to passenger trains, Mr. Grinstein really changed the corporate culture by adding the Amtrak desk in Fort Worth. Since that time passenger service on the BN and BNSF has always been given an important place. He pointed out that the Empire Builder is the only Amtrak train to run throughout the Amtrak era with the same day, and that the 40 trains per day from King Street Station is now the most trains EVER in Seattle, even going back to the heyday of passenger service.


On Friday we arose early to drive to Seattle and take a ride from Seattle to Tacoma and return on Sounder for $9.50 round trip. The ride quality was very good (much better than several years ago in Dallas/Fort Worth). I was surprised that the “reverse commute” still not very popular. After our return we drove to Burr Stewart’s home. He has a HO BN layout set in the transition period. We were able to operate on his layout and had a lot of fun! We really appreciated his efforts, as this was the biggest operating session he ever hosted. Then we went on to the Boeing Club layout – an HO model of the BN in the Cascades. We found it to be a very nice layout with gracious hosts.


On Saturday morning we again set off early in an attempt to navigate around the Seattle Marathon to arrive at Interbay Yard. We successfully arrived early and were able to do some great train watching off one of the nearby bridges. Then we had a great tour of the Interbay facility by Jeff Bergman, a local BNSF employee, with enough freedom to visit the Roundhouse, shops, dead line, and service facilities. We were able to see “Pacific Pride II”, now really faded, as well as a lot of stored serviceable SD75’s and SD60’s. As you will note, we were able to have our annual group picture on an ex-GP30, now a GP39. Then it was off for a run to the local hobby shops, where we diligently endeavored to support the local economy.

On Saturday evening we had our annual banquet. After dinner we listened to Brad Anderson, the Assistant Terminal Superintendent in Seattle, who continued our run of excellent speakers from the Railroad. As usual for these people, Brad is a well seasoned traveler for the railroad, starting his career in Dilworth, then Minneapolis, Fort Worth, Chicago and then to the Kansas City Joint Dispatching Center. After that he went to Wishram, WA, followed by Birmingham, AL and then back to Argentine Yard in KC as Terminal Manager. There he went to work on the process of standardizing procedures to move cars through the terminal more efficiently. He has continued bringing that Best Ways Standardized Process to the Seattle terminal to once again improve their efficiency. He went through examples of how by developing processes for handing off tasks, the dwell time on locomotives dropped from 17 hrs to 9 hrs, and how on-time departures of trains increased from 35% to the present 90%.

He went on to share with us how the railroad plans to service the local industries in Seattle which provide many of the carloads that proceed to move across the nation. By planning how people will handle these cars, the terminals become more efficient and the road freights take care of themselves. When these plans become the norm, all employees, despite their abilities or experience, are able to show similar results.

Brad went on to answer questions, sharing his projection that the economy will improve in the 3rd quarter. He sees hope that Seattle Terminal 18 may become busier. He also felt the reopening of Stampede Pass was a good thing, but feels it definitely must have clearances for double-stacks if it is to be a viable alternative in the future. When asked where he would invest money in the railroad, he felt the 2 crucial areas were safety and the salaries of the lower grade supervisors who really determine the day to day success or failure of operations.

After thanking our speaker, the Convention ended with a huge thanks to everyone who worked to make the convention a success again this year. We particularly need to thank Kris Johnson and Aric Vandevord, who did all the onsite work to make the convention a reality, Jeff Bergman from the BNSF for our Interbay tour, and Dave Poplawski for once again taking the responsibility to pull everything together. Realizing I am the organizer for 2010 means I have really big shoes to fill, but plan to meet us in Galesburg next June 16-19!