I originally posted the Lewis & Clark Explorer page on my website on February 15, 2006, and last updated it on March 26, 2009. I have not made any further updates.
To commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Oregon Department of Transportation operated an excursion train along the south bank of the lower Columbia River from Linnton, near Portland, to Astoria, near the site of Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered over in 1805-06. The train ran for three summers, making one round trip on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The three official seasons were:
May 23 - September 2, 2003. Later extended to September 15 due to the train's popularity.
May 28 - September 20, 2004.
June 3 - October 3, 2005.
Before the official seasons started each year, the train would make a few early trips, as test runs and for various officials and dignitaries. This was the first scheduled passenger service on this rail line since 1952. The train normally did not make any intermediate stops between Linnton and Astoria, but would stop at a town if arrangements were made in advance for a large group of people.
The train consisted of three self-propelled passenger cars known as Rail Diesel Cars, or RDCs, introduced by the Budd Company in 1949 and built throughout the 1950s. Budd was a major builder of railcars at the time, specializing in stainless steel streamlined passenger cars. These cars were purchased by the state of Oregon's Department of Transportation from the British Columbia Railway, which had ended its passenger service in 2002. On a few early trips, when the train didn't have many passengers, only two of the three RDCs would be used if they had enough capacity for the passengers that day. On the vast majority of trips though, all three were used, as the train was often filled to capacity.
RDC's are powered by 2 Detroit Diesel Series 110 V-6 engines, each producing about 275 horsepower, giving each RDC about 550 horsepower. This is enough power for an RDC to move itself rather quickly, however an RDC does not have much power for pulling additional cars. As a result, each RDC in a consist must be operational. RDCs have a control cab at each end, and a single RDC can control all the other RDCs coupled to it. The hump in the roof at the center of an RDC contains the exhaust and cooling for the engines, freeing up space inside the cars for passengers.
ORRX #10 & #11 (#11 shown) are RDC-1s built in August 1956 by Budd for British Columbia Railway's predecessor Pacific Great Eastern as #BC-10 and #BC-11. The RDC-1 was the passenger-only model of Budd's RDC line. The Pacific Great Eastern became the British Columbia Railway on April 1, 1972, when it was taken over by British Columbia's provincial government. The railroad began going by the name BC Rail on June 19, 1984. These RDC's are still in BC Rail paint, with only the BC Rail heralds replaced by the Lewis & Clark Explorer heralds.
ORRX #31 is an RDC-3 originally built by Budd in July 1956 for the Great Northern Railway as #2350. The RDC-3 featured a section at one end of the car for baggage and mail. #2350 became Burlington Northern #2350 in 1970 and later became Amtrak #43. The British Columbia Railway purchased the car in January 1976 to replace their original #BC-31, which was destroyed in a fire on November 26, 1973.
How the three RDCs were coupled together varied. Sometimes the RDC-3 #31 was at one end, other times it was in the middle. The three were rarely separated, so they remained as they were coupled for quite a while.
Though the train only operated for three years, it had its share of difficulties. The first occurred before the first season even started. Originally, Amtrak was going to operate the train and handle ticketing and reservations, and the train would depart from Union Station in downtown Portland. Just days before the 2003 season was to start, Amtrak announced that it would not be operating the train and would stop taking reservations and refund people who had already purchased tickets. Negotiations between Amtrak and the state could not convince Amtrak to operate the train, though Amtrak did agree to handle the reservations and tickets for the 2003 season only. That left the state and the owner of the rail line, the Portland & Western Railroad, to operate the train themselves. The following seasons, the reservations and tickets were handled by TicketsWest.
Near the end on the 2004 season, on Thursday, September 2, a Portland & Western freight train crew switching the Stimson Lumber mill at Clatskanie, pushed a loaded carload of lumber off the approach to the open drawbridge over the Clatskanie River. This damaged the bridge approach and closed the line for the entire Labor Day weekend, forcing that weekend's trips of the Lewis & Clark Explorer to be cancelled. The bridge approach was repaired and the line reopened in time for the rest of the season to be completed.
On August 14, 2005, the Lewis & Clark Explorer RDCs were pulled by a Portland & Western freight engine, EMD GP39-2 #2308. Apparently, one of the RDCs had engine trouble, and the other two didn't have enough power to pull the dead one along. Overall though, the RDCs were very reliable.
The pictures below show the Lewis & Clark Explorer being pulled by #2308 through Rainier on the return trip to Portland.
I never had the chance to ride the train; by the time I got around to it at the end of the last season, all the remaining trips were full. I did take a couple days to chase the train though, and actually I think I had more fun doing that. I chased the train on two days. I followed it all the way to Astoria and back on September 24, 2005, and on October 1, 2005 I chased it again as far as Rainier to photograph it at a few more locations that I missed it at during the previous trip. The map below shows all the places that I photographed the train. I didn't get any pictures at Linnton, but it is on the map because it was the end of the line.
Now lets follow the Lewis & Clark Explorer as it travels along the Columbia River.
Continue to Linnton…