Skip to main content
Stevens Pass Railroad Tunnels & Switchback System
Main Category
Sub Category
Date Created
Location Country
47.743017, -121.0687
Stevens Pass

In the years following the Civil War, the land west of the Mississippi River was being settled and the Pacific Northwest explored. There remained, however, a large portion of Montana, Idaho, and Washington that contained enormous quantities of timber and minerals, but was not accessible by rail. By far the most grueling stretch was the Stevens Pass area in the Cascade Mountains.

John F. Stevens ,  Chief Engineer of the Great Northern Railroad and President of ASCE in 1927, located Stevens Pass in 1890 and oversaw subsequent railway development. In the first phase of construction, switchbacks were used to cross the mountains. Phase two consisted of construction of first Cascade Tunnel and switchbacks. In the third phase, Great Northern built a new 7.8-mile Cascade Tunnel which circumvented the first tunnel and switchbacks.

The first and second Cascade Tunnels and the switchbacks carried the Great Northern Railroad trains over the Stevens Pass since 1892. John F. Stevens was made chief engineer of the Great Northern in 1895 and supervised construction of the Cascade Tunnels. The second Cascade Tunnel was the longest tunnel in the Western Hemisphere from 1929 to 1989.
Image Credit
Courtesy Wikipedia/Seattleretro
Image Caption
Railroad development in Stevens Pass made accessible a timber and mineral rich region of Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

Please support America's only magazine of the history of engineering and innovation, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to Invention & Technology.


Stay informed - subscribe to our newsletter.
The subscriber's email address.