Between the two electrified sections, from Avery, Ida., to Othello, Wash., is a relatively flat 210-mile stretch of track which is not electrified. The “gap,” as it is known, was at one time scheduled to be electrified, and electric power for it was once reserved with local suppliers.

The planners’ intent to electrify the railroad all the way to the Pacific is also reflected in the present numbering of the substations. Substations are numbered westward, starting with No. 1 at Two Dot, Mont., and continuing on the Rocky Mountain Division to No. 14 at Avery, Ida. Substations 21 through 28 are on the Coast Division between Taunton, Wash., and Tacoma. The allowed for six numbered stations in the gap were never built.

The line through the gap, relatively flat and straight, lacked the immediate operating difficulties of the other two segments. The gap therefore had the lowest priority for electrification, since steam power could do the job well.

Shortly after the Coast Division electrification was completed, the national economy took a downturn. Due to a resulting lack of traffic development on the extension, a concurrent difficulty in obtaining capital, and the fact that through passenger and freight traffic moved over different routes near Spokane, Wash., all plans for electrifying the gap were dropped by 1921.

Traditionally, the “gap” has posed several problems, but the primary one has been locomotive utilization. With electric locomotives restricted to only parts of the 900-mile run between Harlowton and Tacoma, the railroad has been restricted in its operational flexibility. Because of the need to improve flexibility, conversion to all electric or all diesel on the western lines has been discussed for many years but neither had been found advantageous prior to now. Branch line operations on both electrified sections have always been non-electrified.






The Gap:

Avery, Idaho to

Othello, Washington










Due to a lack of traffic, plans for electrifying the gap were dropped


Primary challenge

of the gap was utilization of locomotives



document home

web version



full text

Click here for a guide to this website

Contact Webmaster

Last Updated: March 03, 2009