The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society

The Spokane, Portland, And Seattle Railway

(SP & S)

A brief history by Glenn Laubaugh ; edited by Ron McCoy

The Portland & Seattle Railway (P&SRy) was incorporated in 1905 with the purpose of connecting Spokane, Seattle and Portland by single railroad. Co-owned 50%-50% by the Great Northern (GN) and the Northern Pacific (NP) railroads, this railway increased the power that legendary railroad empire-builder James (Jim) Hill wielded specifically in Oregon and the Northwest in general.

The railroad started construction from Portland to Spokane along the north bank of the Columbia River. In early 1908 the company name was changed to Spokane, Portland & Seattle for various reasons.

By late 1908 the main line was completed between Portland and Spokane. Interestingly, the Spokane Portland & Seattle railroad never serviced Seattle itself. Rather, freight and passenger to and from Seattle were handled by the parent companies, GN and NP.

In 1906 the SP&S began construction of the massive bridges from Portland to Vancouver. They would bring to an end the need for Northern Pacific's rail-car ferry which had been crossing the Columbia between the small towns of Kalama and Goble. These bridges ultimately carried the SP&S traffic as well as the Northern Pacific, the Great Northern, and Union Pacific trains to Seattle as a part of Portland to Seattle "pool" trains. For about 10 years these bridges also carried the trains of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific. At the time, one of the spans set a world record for size. Now part of the BNSF system, these continue to serve not only the BNSF, but also the Union Pacific and Amtrak.

Several subsidiary companies of the SP&S did serve significant sections of the state of Oregon. Those were the Oregon Electric (in the Willamette Valley) and the Oregon Trunk (in central Oregon). In addition, smaller companies served a few specific cities. The SP&S also owned the Portland to Astoria branch line, which was completed between Seaside and Portland in 1898. The SP&S did not take over the line until 1907 through 1911. Please see the history of the Astoria & Columbia River Railroad. The SP&S was also involved with the Pacific and Eastern near Medford, the Gales Creek & Wilson River Railroad, the United Railways Company, and the SP&S Transportation Company, which was a bus company that was formed by the SP&S to provide services where their trains didn't operate, as well as to compete with the various bus companies that started to appear in the 1930's and compete with the railroad.

The SP&S, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist in 1970 after the Burlington Northern merger. The corporate existence of the Oregon Electric Railway lasted a considerable number of years after the merger.

For more information, see:

North Bank Road - The Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway; John T. Gaertner, © 1990, published by Washington State University Press, Pullman, Washington. ISBN 0-87422-070-X.

The Northwest's Own Railway Vol. II- Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway and its Subsidiaries; Walter R. Grande, © 1997, published by Grande Press. ISBN 0-9634128-1-7. COPIES OF THIS EXCELLENT OUT-OF-PRINT HARD-BOUND BOOK MAY BE AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM OUR CHAPTER. PLEASE SEE THE "CONTACT US" PAGE AT TO INQUIRE ABOUT PRICE AND AVAILABILITY. The PNWC also has much of the original reference material within its extensive archives.

Spokane Portland & Seattle Ry.; Charles & Dorothy Wood, © 1974, published by Superior Publishing Company, Seattle, Washington. Library of Congress catalogue # 74-75657

That Reminds Me of Another Story: Stories of the SP&S Railway.; Kenny Prager, © 1999 Laurel Prager. COPIES OF THIS OUT-OF-PRINT BOOK MAY BE AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM The Pacific Railroad Preservation Association (PRPA).

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