Rebirth of the
Toppenish, Simcoe & Western Railroad
By the time the Northern Pacific merged with other railroads to create the Burlington Northern (BN) in 1970, rail shipping on the Simcoe Branch had dropped significantly. Timber and farm commodities were increasingly moved by truck. By the time the Simcoe Branch was sold to the Washington Central Railroad (WCRC) in 1986, shipping was down to about 100 cars a year. In 1991 the WCRC sent a letter to shippers stating that unless they were willing to pay a significant subsidy the line would close.
The WCRC filed a petition with the ICC for abandonment of the unprofitable branch line on April 6, 1992. The Yakima Valley Rail and Steam Museum Association (YVR&S) jumped at the task of keeping the line open. An attorney was retained to sort through the ICC legal hoops. Help was enlisted from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). WSDOT recognized the impact of heavy trucking on rural roads and felt it was actually cheaper in the long run to purchase the line at salvage value than to repair the damage caused by the extra trucks needed if the line were to be removed.
In March 1993, WSDOT purchased the White Swan Line and contracted through Yakima County for the YVR&S to operate the line. The YVR&S formed its operating division as the Toppenish, Simcoe & Western Railroad ( reporting marks TSWR). Papers were filed with the ICC and authorization was obtained to operate as a fully licensed common carrier subject to FRA guidelines.
As part of the deal with the county, the YVR&S agreed to maintain the freight on the White Swan Line for a minimum of two years. The new TSWR ran its inaugural passenger run in June 1993. Freight service was resumed in October 1993.
Though at times the volume was slim, the TSWR survived and grew. In the fall of 2000 the traffic increased dramatically when the Yakama Indian Nation's Yakama Forest Products began shipping lumber by rail. In addition the railroad contracted to ship raw logs from the Yakama Nation's extensive forest holdings. During the first three months of 2001, the number of cars shipped was almost double the total car count of 2000. With the expansion of freight operations in the fall of 2000, it was no longer tenable to operate with all volunteer crews. A full time manager/operator was hired. In April of 2001 the second full time employee was hired to help keep up with the growing shipments and increasing maintenance needs. By 2002 the railroad had five employees. An active group of volunteers supplement the full time personnel. Although all revenues were diverted back into maintenance and revamping the line, IRS regulations mandated that the TSWR be organized as a fully owned for profit subsidiary of the YVR&S. This was accomplished in March of 2002. A separate board of directors was formed and provided direction for the general manager.
Increasing loads made it necessary to acquire more powerful equipment. A GP-9, ex-NP #316 (later Washington Central #302 and then BNSF #302), was purchased from the BNSF in September of 2000.
The TSWR became one of the Washington State Department of Transportation's success stories. Abandonment of the line was halted and a thriving rail line resulted.
TSWR Main Page Building the White Swan (Simcoe) Branch Personal Experiences