The Interurban Railway

The Interurban Railway

Up until 1990 the most popular gift for young boys up to age 12 was the classic electric train set.  In 1902, when the City of Kent turned 12 years old they acquired their own electric train set, with track extending from a loop in downtown Seattle, through the valley past Kent, and along the hillsides of the Cascades to the port City of Tacoma.  Stretching for over 80 miles, this is the story of the Puget Sound Electric Railway, known as, “The Interurban.”
Slide1We are going to take a different style of approach tonight and present this topic as a matter to the 1928 Kent City Council for a bond levy.  The setting is February 22, 1928 and City of Kent Mayor, R.W. Murker has summoned a representative of the PSE Railroad to the City Council to address the recent news that the Railroad has yet again defaulted on a bond payment.
Slide2Kent has been the leadership center for the Interurban, many folks read the 1893 editorials published in the White River Valley Journals about starting an electric railway.  They typically appeared alongside some half page ads such as these for Timothy J. Howley’s Construction and Sales.  The editorials were written to help advocate farmers coming forward to sell portions of their land.  King County even authorized a special fund for inducing these farmers by offering $2 per acre for right of way space for the future railway.  The first attempts to start the railroad in 1893 were halted by the economic panic that ensued.  This was followed by a general economic depression in 1896-1897 that continued to dampen efforts to build a new railroad.
Slide3            1901 brought about the needed catalyst for starting the Interurban.  Timothy J. Howley was now a local politician, and promoting the new Railway operation.   He had even secured economic opportunities for the City of Kent by negotiating an exclusive deal to have his lumber yards supply all of the railroad ties used in the construction of The Interurban.  Additionally, he managed to negotiate the final section of right of way necessary by offering Robert Ramsay $475 for the acreage on the western part of his farm land in Kent, WA.

The mainline was built in sections with Seattle to Kent being built first and opening up for travel July 25, 1902 just in time for racing season.  PSE Railway had three powerhouses located in Georgetown, Kent, and Milton.  Pictured here is one of the two alternators in the largest of the three powerhouses.
Slide4We would add the southbound line connecting Tacoma later on September 25th of that same year.  Pictured here is the main depot in Tacoma located adjacent to the Northern Pacific R.R. Depot.
Slide5Right here in Kent we have the core of our operations, the award winning Powerhouse opened in 1899 and it has served us well to date.  The Original Headquarters office & depot that was built in 1902 is still serving the town with its upstairs offices and crew rest bunks.  The venerable Car Barn continues to hold up through all kinds of inclement weather to provide a good area for maintenance and service.
Slide6These facilities have allowed us to maintain our rigorous service schedule which includes 4 limited runs per day from Seattle to Tacoma non-stop.  Along with many express local runs that server the City of Kent in particular.
Slide7Here is some of the equipment that we have for supporting the passengers.  This design for the motorcar is based on our original 1902 concept and it really is due for some upgrades with newer more powerful motors available from General Electric.  We focused on using the combination powering system such that we can use overhead systems in the major metropolitan areas, and 3rd rail systems out in the rural areas.  The only complaints we have received to date were from a farmer in Auburn who lost 6 head of cattle in one day when they all got loose and strayed onto the tracks.  The newspaper reported that neighbor folks all got to eat well for the winter months that year.
Slide8Passengers comment that the standard car is ok for service, however they do prefer the nicer and roomier interior of our parlor car that we offer on the Limited runs.
Slide9Occasionally, to handle the weekend rushes to Seattle for shopping we use these baggage cars on a train for the extra storage.
Slide10Although it doesn’t get as much use it has in the past, the postal express car does allow us from time to time to shuttle around small amounts of freight that a regular boxcar might be too big to handle.
Slide11Our basic operations strategy has not changed, we monitor passenger volumes and create a combination of trains that can get us adequate seating at an affordable rate.
Slide12Overall the railroad has been performing ok relative to some of its competitors, we have seen a drop in passengers since the automobile has started becoming an affordable option here in the Kent & Auburn valley.
Slide13We have always strived to offer good choices and options to our customers such as implementing 24 hour a day service during the Alaska – Yukon – Pacific exposition.  This helped us out as the volume of travelers increased dramatically that year.  After the exposition we resumed regular service of getting commuters to downtown Seattle…
Slide14…or shoppers out to their favorite locations relax.
Slide15Then bring you back home with our economical $1.00 round trip fare.
Slide16We do have some internal operation challenges, these disrupt our continuous service model and hinders our peak revenue efficiency.
Slide17For example, the periodic annual flooding of the Kent Valley, tends to close us down for days at a time without being able to transport passengers safely.
Slide18Or a neighboring town that occasionally has their embankment fall down and block our tracks.
Slide19In 1914 we had a research breakthrough in so far as we discovered that the wooden trestle located South of Kent over the Green River can only sustain the weight of 5 loaded boxcars.  The sixth one appeared to be too much and the pilings cracked and collapsed.
Slide20We especially have had challenges with these new personal automobiles, there are so many of them now that they are more frequently trying to run across the railway crossings just as the trains are arriving.  We had a notorious incident a few years back on Jan. 25th, 1925 when Charles Guiberson, a prominent City person and one of the first City of Kent Council members, was driving his car home.  The vehicle stalled on the Meeker Ave crossing right at the depot platform.  An arriving train struck him and he did not recover from those injuries that evening.  We deeply regret that this matter happened in broad daylight for all to witness.

Likewise, later in September we had an operator error that caused two of our trains to collide just South of Kent.  One train was late getting to the Kent Depot and into a siding when the Northbound train came his direction.  Both operators were quick to take safety precautions and there were only 18 reported bruised or lightly injured, but no fatalities.
Slide21Which brings me to the cleanup and maintenance work.  This tends to get overlooked and so I wish bring to your attention one of our teams that is based right here in the City of Kent.  The team manager is Steven Sells, and he has done a great job leading his team as they perform their duties up and down the valley portion of the line.  One thing that the teams did accomplish back in 1918 they came up with a method of using chemical sprayers to eradicate the weeds along the right of way.  This has been a great improvement over hand methods of weeding the tracks.  We have seen a reduction in incidents of Train motors short circuiting and starting brush fires and the various rural areas.
Slide22We make some attempts to use the new automobile technology, but right now it’s only a test market and we are not seeing good safety and reliability in these vehicles.

In 1928 with the opening and dedication of Pacific Highway we have noticed that North Coast lines have been staging these new buses right across the street from our depots.

So Mayor Murker the PSE is asking the City of Kent for some recapitalization so that we may acquire modern equipment, and turn our fortunes around.  Someday people may need a commuting option between Tacoma and Seattle that will only take 70 minutes.





Special thanks to several people and organizations in the community that helped to make this happen.