Railroad and Rail-Trail History of Ferry County, Washington

From the Folks at Hansen Woodland Farm....

Westside Ferry County Railroad History

Construction of Great Northern Railroad line along Curlew Lake On June 23, 2006, Kettle Falls International Railway, the most recent railroad company running on the line, filed to abandon the railroad corridor -- ending more than 100 years of rail travel in that part of Ferry County.

Rail service in Ferry County (into Republic and Curlew) began in the early 1900s, with the arrival of the Washington and Great Northern Railway, which later merged into the Great Northern. The railroad originally hauled freight from mining operations (as well as timber products in subsequent years), and later added passenger service, connecting to the largest city in the area, Spokane, via the Spokane Falls & Northern Railroad (also part of the Great Northern system). While rail passenger service ended in the 1930s, freight continued to run in a reduced capacity along the line. In 1970, the Great Northern was merged (along with three other railroads) into the Burlington Northern Railroad. In 1996, Burlington Northern merged with the Santa Fe Railway to become Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). In 2003, one of the last remaining major users of the rail line in Republic, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, ceased operations. Finally, in 2004, OmniTrax's Kettle Falls International Railway acquired the rail corridor.

The Great Northern Railway was created September 1889 by James J. Hill, a Canadian-born businessman nicknamed the "Empire Builder" for his knack of creating prosperous business where none previously existed. The Great Northern was born from several existing railroads in Minnesota and eventually stretched from Minneapolis/St. Paul west through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Headquarters for the line were located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Westside Ferry County Rail-Trail History

Rail-Trail bridge trestle over Curlew Lake The 25-mile multi-use, non-motorized trail runs along a former railroad line running from the town of Republic north to the Canadian border. The rail line was abandoned and successfully railbanked by Ferry County in 2009. In 2010, the county established the Rail Corridor Committee to plan and manage the trail.

The grade along the entire rail corridor is mild, while the route is curvy as it follows the contours of two major bodies of water -- Curlew Lake on the southern end of the trail and the Kettle River to the north.

The Rail-Trail is one of only two in all of Northeast Washington (the other, Spokane River Centennial Tail), serving as an important bridge connecting not only with other rail-trails throughout the state, but with the many trails within Ferry County.

The Rail-Trail includes two trestles and one tunnel. The first trestle, located on the north end of Curlew Lake, is a 770-foot-log typical timber trestle that was rebuilt in 1974 after the original one caught fire, burning down to the water line. The second trestle, located on Trout Creek, is a 25-foot-long typical timber-piling trestle at least 50 years old. The tunnel, located along the Kettle River north of the town of Curlew, is a rustic 120-foot-long hole blasted through granitic rock.

Current uses on the trail include walking, running, and mountain-biking (because of very rough ballast surface) in warmer months. In the winter, the trail is used by hikers, snowe-shoers, and cross-country skiers.

Railraod line along Kettle River

Eastside Ferry County Railroad History

At this writing, the east side line is still running freight, running from Spokane into Canada.

More history and details coming soon!

Continue reading the story of Ferry County...

  • Natural Resources of Ferry County
  • Other Resources Unique to Ferry County
  • Cultural and Historical Heritage of Ferry County
  • Go back to ... History of Rural Ferry County, WA: A County Without Traffic Lights

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