Tell Tale Extra:

Pooled to Portland



This week’s viewer mailbag included questions on the Great Northern-Northern Pacific-Union Pacific “pool trains” between Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Veteran Tacoma Division Dispatchers Jim Fredrickson and Dave Sprau lent some answers. Further replies are welcome!



Dale Saanders

December 27, 2001

I have a couple of questions regarding the Pool Trains that ran between Seattle and Portland. What exactly was the arrangement between GN and NP? How many trains were scheduled to run in the late 1960s? Was the UP involved at all or did they run their own passenger trains?



D. T. Sprau

December 27, 2001

The answer to that question can get complicated. Here is the simple version:

            [The] GN, NP and UP made an [agreement] that each would contribute one-third to the cost and the [equipment]/labor of operating passenger trains between Portland and Seattle. At the very end this [agreement] was easy to carry out because there were three trains running, one in morning, one at noon, and one in evening out of [Portland] and Seattle. Each railroad furnished a crew and the equipment and operated one of three trains each way.

            There used to be more than three trains. In those cases, for example, the fourth train was run by the three roads taking turns at it. I believe these periods were for one year but I am not sure. In any event the end result was that each [railroad] contributed an equal amount of miles and equipment to the operation.

            All the UP trains ran over [the Milwaukee] from Tacoma to Seattle Union Station, other than that, the service was identical. When UP had their turn at the fourth train, it also used [the Milwaukee] depot at Auburn, whereas the NP and GN [v]ersions used [the NP/GN] depot. I believe this agreement came about as a result of the [U.S. Railroad Administration] operation of railroads during [World War One], but I could be wrong about that.



Dale Sanders

December 28, 2001

Thanks for the input on the Pool Trains. As always, answers to questions bring up more questions.

            Question One: In the 1960s, did the NP always operate [Nos.] 407/408 pair of trains and did the GN always operate the 459/460 pair of trains? What were the UP train numbers for their portion?

            Question Two: What were the departure and arrival times at Seattle and Portland for [Nos.] 407/408 circa 1966?



D. T. Sprau

December 28, 2001

In 1960 [t]here was no No. 459. But, always in sixties for other schedules:


            GN operated 460 Seattle 8:05 A.M. – Portland 12:20 P.M.

            NP operated 408 12:30 P.M. – 4:30 P.M.

            UP operated 458 5:00 P.M. – 9:15 P.M.


            UP operated 457 Portland 9:00 A.M. – Seattle 1:00 P.M.

            NP operated 407 5:30 P.M. – 9:30 P.M.

            GN operated 401 11:45 P.M. – 6:00 A.M.

            GN 459 130 P.M. – 530 P.M. replaced 401 on April 29, 1962.


            Circa summer 1966, 408 [left] Seattle 11:15 A.M. [and arrived] Portland 3 P.M. [while] 407 [left] Portland [at] 5:30 P.M. [and arrived] Seattle [at] 8:15 P.M. However, you must keep in mind that back in those days the [railroad] did not change time, and adhered to standard time for schedules. This means that per [daylight] time the trains were probably running one hour later as far as customers believed, during summer time.



Jim Fredrickson

December 30, 2001

Excerpts from Seattle-Portland Pool Train Contract dated November 19, 1924, effective April 1, 1925:

            During the calendar year 1923, the Pacific Company, the Northern Company and the Oregon Company each operated two passenger trains each way daily between Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR,...They believe that by operating five passenger trains in each direction daily between cities (one of such trains to be limited as to stops and upon a fast schedule) and a local passenger train in each direction daily between Centralia, WA, and Portland, OR, they can reduce the expense of passenger train operation and improve the service to the public. The most practical plan for bringing this about, in the judgment of the parties, is by pooling the earnings of such five trains and said local train, which they propose doing if the consent of the ICC be given. Such trains, together with any special trains the revenue and expenses of which are to be pooled, are hereinafter for brevity sometimes referred to as “pool trains.”


The next section describes track ownership and the use of Portland, Tacoma and Seattle stations and then it says in part:

            Effective at eleven P.M. on the first day of January, 1925, each of the parties will annul its present schedule of passenger trains and will thereafter operate in that service only such pool trains as are by this contract assigned to it, and such special trains as it may be necessary from time to time to run.


Then it gets into schedules saying in part:

            However, in the preparation of said schedule, it is understood that in a general way the following principles are to be followed:

            Each company with its power and crews and with its own equipment as far as same is available under the requirements of paragraph seven of this contract, shall operate the pool trains designated below:

            The Northern Company will operate a pool train out of Portland and out of Seattle at about 4:30 PM each day, on a limited schedule of stops, and at as high a rate of speed as the General Managers agree is practicable, such trains arriving and departing from King Street Station in Seattle and Union Depot in Portland. It will also operate a pool train daily between Portland and Centralia, leaving Centralia at about 7:30 A.M. and returning leave Portland at about 3:30 P.M.

            The Oregon Company will operate two pool trains each way daily between Portland and Seattle, arriving and departing from the Union Stations in said cities. The first of such pool trains to leave Portland and Seattle at about the hour of 1:00 P.M. and the second of such pool trains to leave Portland and Seattle at about the hour of 11:15 P.M.

            The Pacific Company will operate two pool trains each way daily between Portland [and] Seattle, arriving and departing from King Street Station in Seattle and Union Depot in Portland. The first of such pool trains to leave Portland and Seattle at about the hour of 9:00 A.M. and the second of such pool trains to leave Portland and Seattle at about the hour of 11:45 P.M.

            Then comes a lot about revenue and expenses....the Accountant of the Pacific Company is hereinafter designated Pool Accountant.


Paragraph VII:

            For the sole purpose of equalizing equipment between the parties on the basis of their 1923 operations, there shall be determined the number of passenger car miles of the various classes of passenger cars (exclusive of sleeping and dining car miles) which each company ran in its Portland-Seattle service during said calendar year 1923, and each company shall furnish passenger cars of the various classes for the pool service so that its passenger car miles in the pool service shall be approximately the same percentage of the total passenger car miles in such service, as its passenger car miles in the Portland-Seattle service was to the total passenger car miles in such service in the calendar year 1923. Each party at its own expense will maintain the passenger cars which it furnishes for the pool trains. Each party will furnish, maintain and operate at its own expense any needed dining car in any pool train operated by it and will retain all the earning of such dining car.


By the time I went to work in 1943 the pool trains had dwindled down to one each way for each road with the night train alternating, each road had it for a year. (The Centralia-Portland turn was long gone.) NP ran the mid-day trains 407 and 408. In 1955 407 was changed to a 5:30 P.M. departure from Portland so that the equipment from 408 could double back the same day. GN 459 became the early afternoon train leaving Portland an hour after 460 arrived.

            GN 460 left Seattle in the morning and came back as 459 in the evening until the 1955 change.

            UP 457 left Portland in the morning and returned as 458 in the evening. During the war they were run in two sections, coach and Pullman.

            For a short time in the early [1950s] two additional mail trains each way were established—403 and 404 in the daytime and 405 and 406 at night. I am very fuzzy on details except in February, 1951, NP had the night trains and UP the day trains.


Getting back to the contract:

            Effective April 1, 1927, [S]ection IV of said agreement of November 19, 1924, is amended to read as follows:

            “Regular trains having runs only in part on the colored tracks, such as the Pacific Company’s Grays Harbor, Willapa Harbor, Buckley Branch, Yacolt Branch and East Auburn connections, and the Northern Company’s connection with its Oriental Limited operated between Seattle and Tacoma, shall not be considered pool trains nor taken into pool accounts.”


All in all, it’s sort of a can of worms. If you would like to come by and read contracts and review time tables, feel free.



Jim Fredrickson

January 1, 2001

            The rotation of which road handled night trains 401 and 402 was on a yearly basis, not three months.

            [The Northern Pacific] did not use Traveller’s Rest cars on 407 [and] 408. It was called a Parlor-Bar-Lounge car and they were the same as the Holiday Lounge cars purchased for the Mainstreeter. Amtrak did finally use Traveller’s Rest cars on Seattle to Portland trains after the demise of the [North Coast Limited].

            Prior to the lightweight Parlor-Bar-Lounge cars 407 [and] 408 had a parlor car and tavern car which was one of my all-time favorite NP cars. It was half lunch counter and half booths which had red leather upholstery.



Mark Meyer

January 1, 2002

What about freight service between Seattle and Portland? Was there reciprocal switching/service available to all customers on the line from GN, NP, and UP? (Well, UP from Tacoma south anyway?) Did the GN and UP have locals come on duty and tie up at intermediate points?



Jim Fredrickson

January 1, 2002

Customers could choose which railroad would handle their cars. Northern Pacific served both the Prairie Line and Point Defiance Line from Tenino Jct. to Tacoma. When the Point Line was opened [],  UP and GN had to choose which of the two lines they would use. UP elected to go Point Line and GN took the Prairie Line. In 1943 GN ceased operating over the Prairie Line and went to the Point Line. There had been a lot of pressure from city of Tacoma to remove the long trains blocking Pacific Avenue. GN retained some sort of arrangement to get business from former Prairie Line customers with NP doing the switching and taking the cars to Tacoma. UP had rights on the American Lake Line from Nisqually to Fort Lewis. South of Tenino Jct. each road had equal rights to serve shippers enroute.

            Each road had its local trains and the assignments varied over the years. Following is an outline of some of the NP locals:

            Tacoma-Portland and Portland-Tacoma Locals which in later years were named Time Freights instead of locals.

            Vancouver-Centralia and Centralia-Vancouver Locals which made side trips on the Yacolt branch.

            Chehalis Switch which originated at Centralia, spent most of the day at Chehalis but also went to Napavine and Winlock.

            Fort Lewis Local from Tacoma to Nisqually on Point Line thence to Fort Lewis and return to Tacoma.

            Gate Local from Tacoma to Olympia via [the Fourth] and [Seventeenth Sub-Divisions] and return via [the Third Sub-Division].

            There were a number of other assorted locals at different times such as the Kalama-Olympia Logger, CT and O Turn (Centralia-Tenino-Olympia), etc.

            Hoquiam Highballs 694 and 693 ran via Point Line.


GN and UP had their own locals but not as many. Then there was the Milwaukee between Chehalis Jct. and Longview Jct., and the Longview, Portland and Northern from Vader Jct. to Longview Jct.

            Train dispatchers, Agents and operators were obliged to be impartial and not favor one road over the other in dispatching or soliciting freight or passenger business even though they were on the NP payroll. Each road had its own traffic men soliciting business. This is a complex subject and the above is not meant to be a definitive work on its history.



D. T. Sprau

January 2, 2002

When I saw Mark Meyer’s question about how the freight service on this line was divided up, I started holding my head, thinking this would be just about impossible to explain, but Jim Fredrickson has done a really good job of it. I was going to answer and say something like “It is terribly convoluted—each road to some extent had rights to joint switching in some places but not in others, and what the NP granted the UP was not always granted to the GN, or vice versa.” You might wanta keep print and keep Jims essay on the subject because short of writing a book I don’t think anyone else will be able to enumerate it any better.

            I can add that at the Port of Kalama where GN, NP, and UP all had switching rights (as well as other places), the conductors on the respective locals had a gentlemans agreement between themselves that the first train into those places would try to switch out the business for all other roads and leave it where it could be gotten by those companies’ locals when they arrived. This may seem like a lot of extra work but if you realize that while the UP crew was also doing GN and NP work at Kalama, the GN crew would be doing the UP work at Ridgefield and the NP crew would be doing the GN’s work at Rocky Point, etc., etc., it all came out in the wash at the end of the day without all the cars being switched two or three times, and locals of different companies bunching up at the same station waiting their turn.

Author: John A. Phillips, III.
Title: Pooled to Portland.
© January 3, 2002