Washington state closes all 5 Iron Horse trail tunnels indefinitely

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Update: May 31, 2011 — Snoqualmie tunnel to reopen July 5, 2011.

Falling debris hazards in all five John Wayne Pioneer Trail tunnels, including the 2.3-mile-long Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel above, have convinced Washington state parks to close them until further notice.

The closures are bad news for the many bicyclists and hikers who pass through the tunnels at they hike and bike the 100-mile-long rail-trail over the Cascades from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River.

Shutting down the tunnels not only removes interesting historical landmarks from the Iron Horse State Park, which contains the rail-trail, but requires trail users to take long detours — sometimes out to Interstate 90 — to get through the remote area.

A request for funds to repair the tunnels, estimated at $9 million, are included in the 2009-2011 two-year budget cycle. [Seattle Times reports funds also are being sought in the federal economic stimulus package.]

Falling debris

Tunnels 46 through 50 will be closed until further notice, according to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commision. That’s all the tunnels from the Boylston Tunnel to the Snoqualmie Tunnel.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission said it hired the Kleinfelder engineering firm to conduct a safety review of falling debris hazards in the tunnels.

All five tunnels contained segments with moderate, high, or very high hazard ratings for falling debris.

“Exploring options”

According to a press release issued Friday:

“For the safety of recreational users, the Commission has decided to close these tunnels until further notice. There is no estimated reopening date, although the agency is exploring options for repair.

“The report from Kleinfelder contains options for short-term action steps to reduce areas with high or very high hazard ratings to a moderate rating. The report also estimates costs to bring all tunnels to a low hazard rating at an estimated $9 million. Funds for repairs have been included in agency budget requests for the 2009-2011 biennium.”

Summer visit

I had done some digging around to learn more about these tunnels on the old Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad, commonly known as the Milwaukee Road, after I bicycled up there last summer (Iron Horse State Park’s John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington).

The Snoqualmie Pass tunnel is an amazing ride on a bright summer day, as it is pitch back inside, except for a pinpoint of light which is the opening 2.3 miles away. Water gushes from the wall and drips from the ceiling in places, and after sweating in the sunlight, it’s cold inside.

Completed 1915

According to a letter from the administrative assistant at Lake Easton State Park, posted at TheSlowLane website, the tunnel was built to avoid avalanches on Snoqualmie summit. A survey was completed in 1908 on what was to become the longest tunnel on the Milwaukee Road.

Two crews totalling 700 men started from each side and met in the middle on Aug. 4, 1914. The first train passed through on Jan. 15,  1915. That tunnel originally cost $2 million to build.

According to literature posted at along the trail, the tunnel enabled trains to carry skiers to the Snoqualmie ski resorts.


The Milwaukee Road abandoned the railroad in 1979 and the state acquired the right-of-way in 1981 as an early rail-to-trail project.

Until the tunnel closures, the trail ran from Rattlesnake Lake at Cedar Falls to the Columbia River at Vantage, about 109 miles. The state owns the right-of-way all the way across eastern Washington to the state border.

The Snoqualmie Tunnel remained officially closed until 1995, when the passage was opened to foot and bicycle traffic. It’s usually closed in October and reopens in late spring.

Here’s a 6:30 video I shot on a visit to the trail last summer:

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bikingbis.com/2009/01/31/washington-state-closes-all-5-iron-horse-trail-tunnels-indefinitely/

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