Saving Cheney train depot is worth finding a fix
Write to the Point
I’ve been a train fan for as long as I can recall.
Not sure when the bug was planted, but it could have been one Christmas when I got my first Lionel model railroad as a 5-year-old.
Or maybe it was when my mother and I hopped a westbound passenger train for what I remember as my first train ride. It was a trip from Spokane all the way to Cheney, all of what, about 20 miles?
Funny the things that make impressions on a kid and remain in the memory banks decades later?
So as the “Save Our Station” campaign officially raises its flag, it suddenly occurred to me that if I rode the train to Cheney once in my life, generally loved travel by train and have always had a sincere interest in history, then I, too, had a stake in the dilapidated depot’s future.
Especially in light of Burlington Northern Sante Fe’s recent application for a permit to finally demolish the building that earned inclusion by the National Parks Service on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Cheney Free Press has covered this story recently, reminding us all of the historical significance of this structure that is currently obscured by grain elevators, and has been largely out of the public eye since passenger service ended here in 1971 with the advent of Amtrak.
Warning that the depot, “is living on borrowed time,” we had editorialized as far back as 2009, urging the community to begin the effort to come up with a plan to preserve this unique Spanish-mission style structure, which was built in 1927.
But it was not just the building itself that was historical.
The Cheney depot launched a long-standing tradition that still takes place every fall at Eastern Washington University.
Our 2009 message reminded readers of a different time. “Before automobiles became the standard transportation, it was common for college students to get off the train, walk straight up College Avenue and enter first, the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy, then the State Normal school, now the EWU campus through the pillars in front of Showalter Hall,” we wrote.
So what price does it take to preserve history? Initial estimates have put it in the $400,000 range. That would include the depot’s move to three lots on First Street that would be donated by Dr. Peter Hansen. Moving the depot is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $113,500 with the remainder dealing with asbestos, other hazardous material disposal and any necessary demolition of existing buildings on First Street.
Certainly any major involvement in this project by the city rightfully raises the hackles of the taxpayers. So don’t count on money that can be used for better roads, reduced utility rates or any number of other needs being pointed toward “Saving our Station.”
But community leader, Bonnie Eccles, suggested that it might not be a bad PR move for the current depot owners, BNSF, to help save, rather than demolish the depot. Maybe peel off a tiny bit of the trainload of money — $4.3 billion overall, $125 million in Washington state— budgeted to upgrade rails, locomotives and cars in preparation for increased freight traffic, specifically controversial shipments of coal and oil.
As Cheney searches for some type of identity as a tourism destination — aside from those curious about seeing how really red the Roos Field turf is — the depot could be a cornerstone for that effort.
The city was established because it had railroad service and the depot has been a pivotal part of Cheney’s history and legacy, we wrote in that 2009 editorial.
It’s both ironic and educational to learn that the Cheney depot served passengers from the Northern Pacific Railroad, one of the predecessors of the BNSF. Same as another notable train depot that once stood in the path of construction of Interstate 90 through Wallace, Idaho.
Today, that depot still serves the city of Wallace as a link to its past and a draw for visitors. Hopefully the same will be said someday about Cheney.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.