Our History

Tacoma Public Utilities may be the only utility in the country that owns and operates a railroad. It all began in June of 1925 when a Tacoma City Charter amendment transferred control of the “Tacoma Municipal Belt Line Railway” (now known as Tacoma Rail) from the City’s General Government to Tacoma Public Utilities.

Some believe that the successful management of two of the city’s largest municipal services, power and water, justified moving the struggling railroad into utility hands. At the time, the railroad provided passenger service and shuttled people to and from work in the Port of Tacoma.

Today, Tacoma Rail moves freight (no passengers) primarily through the Port of Tacoma. As a public agency, Tacoma Rail can operate at cost or very close to it, making the Port more competitive.

The railroad has benefitted from its public status in the past because it qualified for state grant funding that private railroads could not receive. (A recent rule change, however, allows private railroads to also receive grants.)

Although a vast majority of its traffic moves in and out of the port, Tacoma Rail also operates on a line that runs through South Tacoma. The City of Tacoma’s General Government owns the TRMW Mountain Division; Tacoma Rail operated the line from 1998 to 2023.

Tacoma Rail has proven itself as an economic engine for Tacoma and Pierce County, and Tacoma Public Utilities prides itself on being a one-of-a-kind utility that can count a short-line railroad as one of the great services it provides.