Friday, May 2, 2014

Farewell is not Forever - Part 3: History of the Route

The tracks #700 would be running on were originally laid in the early 1890s by the East Side Railway Company. The East Side Railway Company was formed in 1891 to link Portland to Oregon City. This line, completed in 1893, was the first interurban railroad in the United States, and utilized the first long-distance transmission of electricity. The East Side Railway became the Portland City & Oregon Railway in 1901, and was renamed the Oregon Water Power & Railway Company in 1902.

The Oregon Water Power & Railway Company consolidated with the Portland Railway streetcar company in 1906 to become the Portland Railway, Light & Power Company. The PRL&P became the Portland Electric Power Company (PEPCO) in 1924.  By 1946, the streetcar lines had become the Portland Traction Company and the interurban lines were the Portland Railroad and Terminal Division of the Portland Traction Company. Streetcars stopped operating in 1950, and the electric interurbans stopped running in January of 1958. Freight service continued on this line with the Portland Traction Company's two EMD SW1 diesel locomotives, #100 & #200, which were purchased new in February 1952 and March 1953 respectively.

Portland Traction Company SW1 #100 at Union Station in Portland, Oregon on May 11, 1996
Portland Traction #100 at Union Station, May 11, 1996.

In 1962, the Portland Traction Company was purchased jointly by the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. Portions of the line would be abandoned over the next 30 years, until 1991, when all that remained was the four miles from East Portland to Milwaukie, which were sold to Dick Samuels along with SW1 #100 to become the East Portland Traction Company. It was these very tracks that #700 was pulled down when she was placed in Oaks Park in 1958, and when she was taken back out to be restored. SW1 #200 was sold and ended up serving a grain elevator in Superior, WI. The original 17 miles of the Springwater Trail opened in 1996, mostly on the right of way of the old Portland Traction line to Boring.

See The Rise and Fall of the Portland Traction Company by Craig Bass for more history, and see Brian McCamish's Springwater Division and Oregon Pacific to see what is left.

Oregon Pacific Railroad SW8 #803 in Liberal, Oregon in September 1998
Oregon Pacific #803 at Liberal, Oregon, September 1998.

Dick Samuels merged the East Portland Traction Company with his Molalla Western Railroad in 1997 to form the Oregon Pacific Railroad. Portland Traction #100 is still maintained in its original orange paint, though it is only one of several locomotives operated by the Oregon Pacific. In the 1990s, Dick Samuels started a small excursion train called SamTrak on this route between Oaks Park and OMSI. Though SamTrak service was suspended in 2002, the SamTrak station at Oaks Park remains. Though these tracks are usually regulated to freight-only service now, they do occasionally host excursions for #700 and #4449, especially during the holidays.

IMG_2091 SamTrak Oaks Park Station
SamTrak Oaks Park Station

There were once two parallel railroad tracks along this route. The track further from the Willamette River was removed years ago. When the city of Portland wanted to build the Springwater bike trail, the remaining track was moved into the position of the track that had been removed, to allow the trail to be closer to the river. This part of the trail opened in November 2002. The entire Springwater Trail is now just over 20 miles long.

Continue to Oaks Amusement Park

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