Ballard Terminal Railroad – Seattle, Washington - Atlas Obscura
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Seattle, Washington

Ballard Terminal Railroad

The spur that wouldn’t die. 

Do-It-Yourself isn’t just about home repair.

When the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe rail line cancelled service through industrial Ballard, the local businesses that relied on the spur teamed up, bought a 50-year-old locomotive and kept rolling. The Ballard Terminal Railroad runs from near the Fremont border all the way to meet the BNSF track at Shilshole. The three miles of old track are not rated for passenger trains but are wholly adequate for its industrial cargo.

The railroad’s first locomotive (the only one in use on the line), is a ’40s era EMD SW1 no. 98 (nicknamed “L’il Beaver” after the Ballard High School mascot). It was retired from the Milwaukee Road, once a major rail link between the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. While you’ll have to go to Cle Elum to see a Milwaukee Road rail yard (emeritus), we’ve got our own piece of it right here in Ballard.

The Ballard Terminal Railroad yard is pretty easy to miss, blending into the surrounding businesses. But if you pay enough attention you might find yourself staring down L’il Beaver as you walk down the street. It may make you think twice about all the train tracks you’ve been blithely walking along.