It's a slow train coming, but the vision in Tacoma for a passenger "train to the mountain" remains despite a steady drain of money from the city's coffers.
The idea for a tourist train that would depart from downtown and deposit riders somewhere near the base of Mount Rainier goes back to at least the late 1980s.
"The train to the mountain has a lot of sex appeal," Councilman Kevin Phelps told The News Tribune of Tacoma.
Interest is driven by the prospect of diverting some of the 2 million annual visitors to Mount Rainier National Park into Tacoma shops and hotels. With that goal in mind, the city even bought a railroad in the mid-1990s, with hopes of building a profitable freight business to subsidize the tourist train.
Tacoma Rail, which already provided freight service to Tacoma's industrial Tideflats, became one of the largest short lines in the country when it added its Mountain Division running from Tacoma to Morton, southwest of Mount Rainier, and to Chehalis in southwest Washington. In all, the city-owned line has more than 170 miles of track.
But the freight line is bleeding money. The train to the mountain remains many years and at least $15 million away from becoming a reality.
Last year, City Council members learned that the railroad had lost its biggest customer to bankruptcy and was losing about $70,000 out of the city's general fund per month as a result. Not counting depreciation, the railroad is losing about $55,000 per month.
Rebuilding the tracks to accommodate a passenger train has proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected.