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Broadway streetcar track work reveals Broadway streetcar track work

These are the ties that bind us.

You may have noticed the crews working on the new streetcar track beds along Broadway in front of Seattle Central digging up large pieces of wood as they make their way down the street. Reader Sage noticed and sent CHS the following:

The streetcar construction project is uncovering some wood beams from beneath Broadway. The workers are taking care to separate the wood from other debris. My curiosities:

1. Are these the long-buried railroad ties of the first streetcar line on Broadway?

2. Is this wood destined to go somewhere special?


Sage’s curiosities are our curiosities. It looks like the crews on Broadway are, indeed, encountering the old Broadway streetcar line. We checked with SDOT and a spokesperson confirmed: You’re seeing the left-behind elements from one of the old lines. SDOT tells us the contractor is expected to send the ties to a recycling facility — if they’re not treated with creosote, a chemical frequently used in wood preservation.

But Sage went one further and contacted the project manager from contractor Stacey and Witbeck about the possibility of salvaging the wood and putting it to greater use than chipping it into bits.

The contractor is open to finding a better home for the ties — with a few caveats. Sage reports:

1) whatever they do, it can’t cost the project extra money and 2) Whomever would pick up wood would need to make an arrangement to take relatively big batch of unsorted wood; e.g. he can’t accomodate random people who want to come onto the secure work site to pick out a few good pieces. On the phone, he also mentioned he expects to pull out 10,000 of these ties over the course of the project, and anticipates they’ll find them all the way south to Yesler.

“At a grander scale,” Sage writes, “it could be awesome if these we could find a public re-use, for example, as a component in some of the new transit-oriented development on Broadway.”

Ideas for how to put 10,000 or so old streetcar ties to work? You know where to find them.

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19 Comments
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Andrew Taylor
8 years ago

When Eastlake avenue near Fred Hutch was resurfaced some years ago they came across a similar collection of railroad ties.

ERF
ERF
8 years ago

Perhaps we could use them to install a system of rails that a trolley could run on. They seem to be just the right size and all.

JimS.
8 years ago

I’m real sure we don’t want the new streetcars running on wood tracks.

FG
FG
8 years ago

Maybe at a park as a decoration to an old looking train cart. Non-functioning train cart of course.

primer
8 years ago

dance floor or basketball court?

Spencer
8 years ago

Broadway Board Walk

Jim98122x
8 years ago

great idea. There must be lots of places around the hill that would be cool to have a boardwalk made of old train ties.

Z
Z
8 years ago

In a city that is lousy with artistic talent, I would love to see a call go out to all of the city’s artists and architects to come up with something amazing. Maybe a competition. Maybe a collaboration. Maybe just a couple of ads calling for ideas. Whatever. (Not that I don’t love the ideas that have been presented thus far, but these are just a few of the great ideas that could be generated!)

ERF
ERF
8 years ago

I agree with you. I was thinking of the five antique streetcars, originally built in the 1920s that we already have sitting around.

ERF
ERF
8 years ago

Another idea might be to create a “reclaimed wood” jungle gym, monkey bars, or climbing frame for Cal Anderson Park.

ERF
ERF
8 years ago

I did a quick Internet search for “reclaimed railroad ties”. Seems to already be a cottage industry for furniture.

umvue
8 years ago

Probably treated at the Eagle Harbor superfund site on Bainbridge I.

Bruce Nourish
8 years ago

No wonder our arterial streets are falling apart, the subgrade is full of random crap.

jvanzetti
8 years ago

I was working for stacy and witbeck when the SLUT was being laid and we had the same thing- we uncovered old trolley line ties and what looked like the remains of an old train yard..

Dotty
8 years ago

I was curious about these too and I asked the Seattle Street Railroad Historical Society list about them. One of the members recalled that the ties used for the old street cars were standard ties, probably 6″ x 8″ x 8 feet long. Yesterday, when I was looking again at the wood they were taking out of Broadway, I noticed that the current construction crews have cut the ties — you can see the cuts along the edge of the trench — so the hunks they are taking out are shorter than the original 8 feet. I think, having looked a second time, that these timbers are certainly the old streetcar ties. You’ll notice the spacing of the original ties along the trench cuts. (We thought they might have been left over from a time when Broadway was planked with wood, but these are certainly ties.) It is interesting to watch the differences in technology between the old and the new. The old ones were street railways, built at a time when railroad technology was the known approach.

Rob
Rob
8 years ago

Maybe we can have someone make them into benches at the street car stations, Broadway Link station, and bus stops along broadway?

JohnS
8 years ago

the fact we don’t spend enough money to take care of our streets in general is probably a larger factor.

Matt the Engineer
8 years ago

Many of the stairs on Queen Anne Hill are made from historical reminants, and even the bricks under our roads were likely used as balast in ships coming up from San Francisco. I remember reading in a now-dead website about QA stairs that several sets were built from old rail ties.

We should find places that need new stairs on or around Capitol Hill and use them there.

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[…] construction was an important factor in the 2012 season for the market. Work to install the First Hill streetcar tracks made for some logistical headaches for vendors and any shopper hoping to park nearby. Despite the […]