History of the Prairie Line (II)

As World War II broke out, traffic increased on the line. It was used as an alternate route for troop trains to and from Tacoma. The telegraph office was manned 24 hours a day with three shifts or “tricks.” In the post-war years, traffic dwindled to secondary or branch status with logs the main commodity carried. The agency closed in the late 1950s and the depot, which stood near where the current Yelm City Hall is, was subsequently dismantled, leaving once again only a wood platform at the Yelm facility.

Recent Years on the Prairie Line

During the 1960s the line handled trains carrying general freight, including Boeing airplane parts on oversize freight cars that would not fit through the tunnel under Point Defiance on on the Steilacoom route. In 1970, both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern lost their individual identities when they merged with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy and Seattle, Portland and Spokane to make one large company, the Burlington Northern.

Around this time, the clearances for the Point Defiance tunnel were increased to handle oversize loads, eliminating the need for the Prairie Line as an alternate route. With the closing of several mills around Tenino and the ceasing of log hauling by the BN, local traffic diminished to next to nothing by the 1980s.

In 1986, BN severed the Prairie Line from the main line at Tenino and took the tracks south of Yelm out of service. Today, Yelm is the end of the line. Current service sees the BN freight train, the Mobase local, venturing to Yelm about once a week to deliver a boxcar or two. The crew sometimes “goes to beans” at one of the local eateries and then heads back toward Tacoma and more prosperous rail business.

Although the rails are still in place and BN still owns the right of way, the fate of the once proud Prairie Line is at stake. A railroad line that was once coveted as the most important item for the development of Puget Sound communities is now ignored and will probably disappear quietly without anyone noticing-and without any chance of ever being rebuilt.

(Source: The Nisqually Valley News)

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