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Western Railroad Discussion > History of the Great Northern: Electrification?

Date: 07/12/02 13:33
History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: tolland

On today's Altamont RR news, someone posted an excellent photo of the Cascade Tunnel portal on Steven's Pass. There is some electrical equipment off to the left in the photo, I assume this is for tunnel ventilation.

However, I seem to recall that historically, at some point, a portion of the GN had overhead electric connections and some electric locomotives were used on the line, maybe even Little Joes, Boxcabs and other vintage electric power.

Does anyone have any comments on this? Is my memory incorrect, or is there a historical record showing electric power used on the Great Northern? I will disclaim right now that I don't have that much knowledge of the GN lines and history. Thanks for your comments.

Best regards,
Jim Burrill

Date: 07/12/02 13:53
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: johnwvan

Both the original high tunnel and the current lower tunnel were electrified. Both electrifications were for the Cascades only, although I don't remember for sure how far either went. I believe the latest one for the long, low tunnel terminated at Skykomish on the west and maybe went clear to Wenatchee on the east.

The east portal in the picture you mentioned is where the closing door and exhaust fans currently are. I've heard the fans are driven by Diesel motors, although I can't swear to that. I just know the exhaust system makes a HELL of a lot of noise when running.

The electrification has been gone for many years, so what you see in the picture would be a substation for other reasons, like even maybe the exhaust plant.

I'm sure many knowledgable people will give you gobs of info, but this is the basics.


Date: 07/12/02 13:53
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: cdub

I too admit that I'm not much of an expert on the great Omaha Orange and Pullman Green road, but I do know that the Great Northern's length of electrified railroad in the Steven's Pass area wasn't nearly as long as the neighboring Milwaukee's electrified territory thru Washington, Idaho and Montana. I want to say that it ran only 50 or 60 miles.

Date: 07/12/02 13:59
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: track_69

Date: 07/12/02 14:29
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: Jim700

I'd have to dig into some books to confirm it, but I seem to recall reading that the first GN Cascades electrification was AC and the second one was DC.

Date: 07/12/02 15:20
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: timz

There were two electrifications all right-- as I recall the first one used locos with two trolley poles to collect 3-phase AC. They replaced this (before? the new Cascade tunnel opened in 1929 or whenever) with the same 11000 volt 25 Hz AC monophase as used on the NH and PRR. Some (all?)of the locos for the later electrification were motor-generator types with DC traction motors; seven? of them ran on the PRR for a year or two after the GN dumped them.

Date: 07/12/02 15:28
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: tankertoad70

GN's electification ran from Wenatchee to Skykomish. It was removed in the early '50s when the tunnel was equipped with large fans to clear the diesel fumes and smoke.

Date: 07/12/02 16:21
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: waybill

tolland wrote:

>and some
> electric locomotives were used on the line, maybe even Little
> Joes, Boxcabs and other vintage electric power.
> Does anyone have any comments on this?

The GN had some "modern" electrics with streamlined cabs on each end as I recall. The "Little Joes" were used only on the Milwaukee, and an engine or two or three on the CSS&SB. I recall a few also ended up in South America. Thus, while the GN and Milwaukee had similar appearing engines, their truck configurations were different as I recall. Foggy memory tells me the GN engines had a "centipede" group of driving axles as well.

Date: 07/12/02 16:56
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: tankertoad70

Check out the follwing web page:


One of the class Y boxcabs had its cab destroyed in a wreck. It was subsequently rebuilt with an FTA nose on each end and was one-of-a-kind. The class W had only two lokies. The Y class was sold to the Pennsy when the wires came down, with the rebuilt 'streamlined' one going as spare parts. Pennsy used the cab noses on that unit to rebuild a couple of their own damaged cab units. One of the W class went to the UP for experimentation and was modified to burn coal in a turbine. I believe the other W was scrapped.

Date: 07/12/02 20:33
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: PaulF

The first Cascade Tunnel electrification ran between Cascade Tunnel station on the east, and Wellington on the west. It was a unique, one-of-a-kind three 6600V three phase AC system, which would run at either 15 or 7 mph depending on which set of induction windings you tapped. The little electrics each had two trolley poles, and the rails acted as the third phase.

The second Cascade Tunnel electrification coincided with the boring of the new, lower tunnel. It was a single phase 11kV 25Hz system, which was fed by a 44kV supply line. The supply line was fed by the original GN Tumwater dam plant, as well as by two rotary converters at Skykomish and Wenatchee. Each electric locomotive had an internal rotary converter, which generated the 600VDC used for the traction motors. Locomotive speed was controlled via excitation of the internal generator.

Aside from the Z, Y, and W class motors mentioned above, one other GN motor worked the second electrification: SC&P 603, a small interurban freight motor, was modified for 11kV and given a set of pantographs to serve as a work train engine during the construction of the lower tunnel.

The electrification was abandoned in 1956, since diesels could operate in the tunnel, eliminating the power hostling time and special purpose equipment. Of course, this was also in the days of nickel gasoline. Nowadays, the primary limit on the Stevens Pass line is the half hour required to blow the tunnel clean after each train.


Date: 07/13/02 13:58
Re: History of the Great Northern: Electrification?
Author: felix.hasler

Besides the standard book "When steam railroads electrified" by William D Middleton Bert Pennypackers's "Cross continent electrics" is a great source of information.
I found these books at www.karensbooks.com, just search for the keyword "electric" and you will find a lot of information about the history of american main line electrification.


Date: 07/13/02 16:07
Author: timz

Middleton tells us the 11000 volt electrification opened in 1927. The new tunnel opened 1929.

Date: 07/14/02 06:21
Re: Clarification
Author: felix.hasler

According to Bert Pennypacker's "cross continent electrics" the 6600 Volt 25 Hz AC 3 phase was in operation between 1909 and 1927 between Tye on the western slope and Cascade Tunnel Station just beyond the eastern portal. It covered only 4 miles, the Cascade Tunnel 1 was about 2.7 miles long. The main target was to eliminate coal gas and smoke problems and to expedite train movements.
From the operating point of view not only the Cascade 1 tunnel but also the 2.2 percent grade between Skykomish and Tye was a problem.
GN managment decided to build a new Cascade Tunnel 2 and to electrify the west slope between Skykomish and Wenatche. The original 3 phase system was considered to be obsolete and an 11 kV single phase system was choosen. They did not change the frequency as 25 Hz was a standard for railway equipment (.
As soon as the four Z1 class locomotives Nos 5004 - 5007 were available, in 1927 electrification of the old Cascade 1 Tunnel was converted to 11 kV 25 Hz single phase and a temporary catenary was built between Scenic and Tye.
The Cascade 2 Tunnel was inaugurated January 12 1929, making the old line obsolete.

Date: 01/25/08 14:30
Re: Clarification
Author: gp50

My son, TO member Cyberfoamer, works for Puget Sound Energy, and recently started a discussion with me about these electrifications. I told him what I remembered about the 3-phase, which used the rails as one of the phase conductors. He brought up a very interesting point: being grounded, the rails cannot carry effective alternating VOLTAGES, and therefore, even at 25 cycles, this would result in seriously imbalanced 3-phase currents in the motors, which, if I remember correctly, were synchronous motors (not induction motors). He suggests that substantial non-work-producing currents would flow in the motor windings, possibly leading to burned out stators.

I do seem to recall reading somewhere about GN operations being hampered by having at least one of the juice jacks laid up for motor rewinding. Can anyone shed more light on the history here?

We also talked about synchronous motors having very little torque at sub-synchronous speeds, and I suggested that the GN probably pushed the consists with the entrained steam locomotive to get them up to speed before they entered the tunnel. Is this supposition accurate?

Found this link later:http://www.trainnet.org/Libraries/Lib001/CASCADE_GN.TXT

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