The BNSF route between Portland and Seattle is one of the oldest rail lines in the West, and Kalama was once a very important place. By the early 1870s, the Northern Pacific Railway had built a transcontinental railroad across the northern United States, with its western terminus in Seattle. Wanting to build a connection to Portland, the Northern Pacific had built south from Seattle, reaching Kalama, Washington by 1874. Passengers then had to be transferred to steamboat to reach Portland. In order to try to close the gap, Northern Pacific built north from Portland along the Columbia River to Goble, Oregon, directly across from Kalama, arriving in 1883. This allowed trains to cross the river on ferries and continue on their way. This arrangement continued until 1908, when the Northern Pacific completed the route on the Washington side of the river, and the drawbridge between Vancouver and Portland. This route is still in use as the main line today, while the route on the Oregon side became part of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle's Astoria branch, which is operated today by the Portland & Western Railroad.
I also chose Kalama because it offers a unique vantage point. A pedestrian overpass crosses over the main line in Kalama, offering an elevated view of the trains that is safe from automobile traffic. My dad and I photographed #4449 at this same spot in June of 2000, when it was first painted black and ran a test run from Portland to Longview and back in preparation for the BNSF Employee Appreciation Special. It is also easy to get back on Interstate 5 and continue north. I hoped that would help me get ahead of the train again.
This is not the most well-known spot, though a fair amount of people, most of them Kalama locals, turned out here to see the train, despite how late it was. It was almost 3:00 when the train came through Kalama. Had it been on time, it would have come through at about 11:00 or 11:30.
I used my digital camera's "Continuous Shooting" feature to capture the train as it approached the overpass, and again as it left.
The train came through Kalama fast, and I expected I'd have to hurry if I was going to get ahead of it again. I got in the car and hurried north on the freeway as quickly as I dared. I looked for any sign of the train every time I came within sight of the tracks, but never saw it. I wasn't sure, but I had to assume the train was ahead of me, so I continued on to Centralia, Washington, where the train was scheduled to make a service stop. It was the only place I could be certain it would stop. Little did I know, the train had actually stopped briefly at the depot in Kelso, Washington. I would later find out that I'd actually been ahead of the train for pretty much the entire trip.
Continue to Centralia, Washington…