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2019 State Rail Plan – The rail system in Washington

Freight rail system

Washington’s freight rail system consists of an expansive network of main lines, branch lines, yards and terminals. Freight railroads operate 3,200 route miles in Washington state.

Most of the route miles (1,900 miles) are owned by the state’s two Class I railroads – BNSF Railway and Union Pacific.

Nearly all of the remaining mileage (1,300 miles) is operated by short line (Class III) railroads. Some short line routes are publicly-owned and operated by private companies, while a few are publicly-owned and operated. The state of Washington owns three short line railroads in eastern Washington, known collectively as the Palouse River & Coulee City Rail System, that are operated under contract with the state by private companies.

Map of all Washington state freight railroads by owner

Passenger rail system

Washington’s passenger rail system consists of long distance, intercity and commuter rail services operating mostly on freight rail lines.

  • Long distance passenger rail service are routes of more than 750 miles between endpoints. Amtrak operates two such routes in Washington: The Coast Starlight between Seattle and Los Angeles and the Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle/Portland.
  • Intercity passenger rail service are routes of 750 miles or less, but not commuter rail. The only such system in Washington is Amtrak Cascades, which is sponsored by the states of Washington and Oregon and operated under contract with the states by Amtrak. It operates from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, OR, with 12 station stops in Washington.
  • Commuter passenger rail service currently is offered by Sound Transit both north and south of Seattle. The Sounder commuter trains serve 12 stations between Everett and Lakewood.

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