Washington: Tunnel Reopened and Others in the Works on Iron Horse Rail-Trail

Posted 12/03/12 by Jake Lynch in Building Trails, America's Trails

Photo of Iron Horse State Park © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Washington's Iron Horse State Park is one of America's iconic rail-trails. Following the path of the former Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad east out of Seattle, the 82-miles of the Iron Horse pass through the stunning scenery for which the Pacific Northwest is famous, from the base of Rattlesnake Mountain all the way to the Columbia River.

However for the past few years much of the trail has been out of action, with falling debris forcing the closure of a number of the historic railroad tunnels that are a feature of the rail-trail and carry it through the topographically challenging region known as the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

Water infiltration and many decades of freeze-thaw cycle led to "spalling" in the concrete tunnel liners, with fragments of material flaking from the walls and roof. After a safety assessment, Washington State Parks decided to close them until they could be repaired.

Now, some great news for rail-trail fans. After two years of engineering and construction work, last summer Washington State Parks, which manages the corridor and the tunnels, was able to reopen Snoqualmie tunnel 50. And work is now underway to repair the lining inside tunnels 48 and 49, to the east.

"If the weather holds, we believe we can finish all the structural work this year," says Nikki Fields. Washington State Parks trails coordinator. "We will still need to come back in the spring to do the final trail grading, ditch reshaping, and hydroseeding. Weather permitting, we expect them to be completely done by next summer."

Of course, such work is not cheap. Tunnels 46 and 47, further east near the town of Thorp, remain closed for now, pending funding to work on them.

Photo of tunnel inspection © Washington State Parks

"They may require a different solution than the other tunnels because they were constructed through loose material, instead of through solid rock," Fields says. "We need funding to design and then carry out those repairs."

Of course, when that funding becomes available will dictate when the necessary work can be done and the tunnels reopened. Like many states, Washington is facing the challenge of fitting important improvements and services into an ever tighter budget, and is being forced to form strict priorities to decide what gets funded and what does not. 

As not only an incredible adventure for local trail users but also a national and international tourist destination and a unique treasure of the nation's railroad history, the Iron Horse State Park has great importance to the state of Washington and the American trail community. Supporters are urged to contact the office of Governor of Washington Christine Gregoire to let her know that repairing the Iron Horse State Park tunnels should be a priority.

For updates on the tunnel repairs visit www.parks.wa.gov/parks

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