TACOMA, Wash. - Seventy-five years after a train regularly carried travelers from Tacoma to Mount Rainier, the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train has tourists riding the rails again.

The red-and-white 1950s vintage streamliner rolled out of Tacoma's Freighthouse Square on Friday after Mayor Bill Baarsma and dinner train owner Eric Temple drove a ceremonial golden spike into the track.

The National Park Limited carried an average of 120,000 passengers a year in the 1920s in its run from Seattle to Tacoma and onward to Mount Rainier. It stopped running in 1932, a victim of the Great Depression and the automobile.

The city and the dinner train's owners have set up a 10-month trial to test whether the dinner train, formerly based in Renton, can survive in Tacoma.

The company has spent about $200,000 preparing for the move.

"We have every hope that this can become our permanent home," he said.

The train goes almost to Mount Rainier. It stops at Lake Kapowsin and then returns to Tacoma - all in a 3 1/2 hour trip. It will probably take $7 million to $9 million in rail upgrades and a bridge repair for the train to reach Ashford and the gateway to Rainier, said Paul Henry, Tacoma Rail superintendent.

The track is in good enough shape to allow Tacoma Rail freight operations but not good enough to allow higher-speed passenger operations.

"We'd like to travel closer to the mountain, but the only way to do that is to increase our speed, not the length of our trip," said Temple. "Our studies show that 80 minutes each way is about the optimum."

Local government officials say the area's congressional delegation is looking into whether federal funds can be obtained for those improvements.

Temple is hopeful the train will find the same success in Tacoma that it enjoyed in Renton. In 1992, it moved from Renton to Yakima, forced out because a plan to expand Interstate 405 will take out a critical bridge.


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