Berne is the site of the east end of the current Cascade Tunnel. It is fairly easy to find, as Highway 2 passes almost directly over the tunnel entrance, and the current portal is visible from the highway.
The new Cascade Tunnel opened for service on January 12, 1929. When the tunnel first opened, the east portal looked identical to the west portal at Scenic, and electric locomotives were used in the tunnel.
East Portal during construction, 1927 (UW)
Workers in Mill Creek Bunkhouse at Berne, 1928 (WSHS)
Electric Locomotive #5011, 1928 (UW)
Officials prepare to open tunnel, January 12, 1929 (UW)
Officials opening the new tunnel, January 12, 1929 (UW)
Officials throw a switch for the first Oriental Limited through the tunnel, January 12, 1929 (UW)
First Oriental Limited through tunnel, Jan. 12, 1929 (UW)
Officials in front of new tunnel, January 12, 1929 (UW)
Empire Builder, circa 1929 (UW)
By late 1947, the Great Northern was using diesel locomotives on its passenger trains through the Cascade Tunnel, including the Empire Builder, Oriental Limited, and Fast Mail, eliminating the change of motive power at Wenatchee and Skykomish. Test trips had shown that diesel locomotives could pull fast-moving passenger trains through the tunnel, but with heavy freight trains, the heat generated by the exhaust gases raised the air temperature inside the tunnel enough to cause engine shutdowns. This is because the train acts as a piston in the tunnel, pushing the cooler air in front of it and leaving the locomotives surrounded by the hot air from their own exhaust. By 1952, the Cascade Division was effectively completely dieselized, with the last steam run taking place from March 23-30, 1953 when a stored 4-8-2 pulled a weed burner train from Seattle.
In the early 1950s, the Great Northern tested a pair of new General Electric experimental E2b electric locomotives. Built in 1951, these 2,500-horsepower units were copies of four units sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad. They had B-B trucks, painted black, and assigned numbers 5020 and 5021. The Great Northern decided they lacked adequate pulling power at the low speeds that were typical on the 2.2% grades. They were returned to GE and sold to the Pennsylvania in March 1953.
The Great Northern had studied extending the electrification east to Spokane in 1930, and west to Seattle in the early 1950s. Both times they found no economic justification for an extension. In 1955, further studies concluded that the electrics cost half as much to operate as steam power, but twice as much as diesels. The Great Northern determined that diesel locomotives could pull freight trains through the Cascade Tunnel if the tunnel was equipped with a ventilation system, and in 1956 the Morrison-Knudsen Company of Boise, Idaho, was hired to install such a system at a cost of $650,000.
At the east end of the tunnel, a new portal with a vertical lift steel door and a pair of 6-foot fans driven by 800-horsepower electric motors turning at 1,150 rpm were installed. With the door closed, this system supplied a fresh air flow of 220,000 cfm. When a train was in the tunnel, only one fan was used; the second fan came on once the train exited the tunnel. With eastbound trains, the door closed when the train entered the west portal with one fan running and opened when the train came within 3,200 feet of the east portal, then closed again when the train cleared and both fans ran for 28 minutes to clear the exhaust from the tunnel.
The ventilation system was placed in service on July 31, 1956, and diesel locomotives took over all operations over Stevens Pass. The Z-1 class electrics were sold for scrap and the Y-1 and Y-1a electrics were sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad; the Y-1s became PRR Nos. 1-7 and the Y-1A was used for parts. W-1 No. 5018 was sold to the Union Pacific Railroad for conversion to a coal turbine locomotive, and No. 5019 was scrapped.
The Great Northern was merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad on March 2, 1970. Between July 1989 and May 1990 the Burlington Northern undertook a $4.8 million project to cut parallel notches in the tunnel lining to provide clearance for new double-stack container trains.
In 1997, the tunnel's ventilation system was rebuilt, with this result. Where the original door opened vertically, like a garage door, the new door opens to the side. In any event, operations have remained essentially the same over the years. If a train enters the tunnel from the west, the door closes and the fans turn on, forcing the exhaust out behind the train. The door remains closed until the train is a quarter-mile from the east end, when the door opens automatically to let the train out. If a train enters from the east, the fans come on immediately and the door closes once the train is fully inside. The exhaust is forced out ahead of the train, and the door at the east end reopens when the train has cleared the tunnel. In either case, the fans continue to run for 30 minutes after a train has left the tunnel to fully clear the tunnel of diesel exhaust fumes.
Here are some pictures of the East Portal of the Cascade Tunnel and trains at Berne.
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