Northern Pacific runs first train from Tacoma to Seattle on June 17, 1884.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2304
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On June 17, 1884, the first Northern Pacific Railroad train runs from Tacoma to Seattle, giving Seattle citizens hope of regular service between the two cities. Seattle passengers and Duwamish and White River farmers are quickly disappointed at the poor or nonexistent service, and the line is soon nicknamed the Orphan Road.

Construction on the line began in 1883. Northern Pacific extended tracks north from Tacoma to Stuck Junction (near future Auburn). The Puget Sound Railroad Company was formed to build the tracks from Stuck Junction to meet the old Seattle & Walla Walla line near Renton. Improvements were made to the Seattle & Walla Walla line from Renton to Seattle. In the fall of 1883, there were 1,400 Chinese working on the line. The line was completed in the Spring of 1884.

At 2:34 p.m. on June 17, 1884, a Northern Pacific train completed the first run over the tracks from Tacoma to Seattle. It was met with a 21-gun salute using a cannon from the 1856 Indian War. Taking 3 hours 25 minutes to travel each way, the Northern Pacific started one round trip a day passenger and freight service on July 5, 1884.

Seattle businessmen and passengers were unsatisfied with Northern Pacific service. The train ride was bumpy because the tracks were not ballasted. At Seattle, the train had no way to turn around so on the return trip to Tacoma locomotives were forced to back up the entire distance. On August 22, 1884, in reaction to King County farmers and businessmen complaining so much about the poor service, the Northern Pacific stopped running the trains. The tracks laid idle for days, weeks, and then months. It was nicknamed the Orphan Road, unwanted and unused.

On October 26, 1885, train service was finally reestablished. For $1.00 a passenger could travel from Seattle to any point on the line leaving at 2:25 a.m. to Tacoma and 3:10 p.m. to Stuck Junction.


Thomas W. Prosch, "A Chronological History of Seattle From 1850 to 1897," Typescript dated 1900-1901, pp. 306, 310, Northwest Collection, University of Washington Library, Seattle; Kurt E. Armbruster, Orphan Road: The Railroad Comes to Seattle, 1853-1911 (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1999), 86, 91-92, 94, 102-104.

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