Rail transportation in Oregon

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Rail transportation is an important element of the transportation network in the U.S. state state of Oregon. Rail transportation has existed in Oregon in some form since 1855,[1][2] and the state was a pioneer in development of electric railway systems. While the automobile has displaced many uses of rail in the state (as elsewhere), rail remains a key means of moving passengers and freight, both within the state and to points beyond its borders.


The first railway in Oregon was proposed by Byron J. Pengra, Surveyor General of Oregon, along the Oregon Central Military Wagon Road in 1864, but Oregon's first railroad ended up being the Oregon Portage Railroad.[3][4] Henry Villard's Oregon Railway and Navigation Company established transcontinental rail lines with Northern Pacific in 1880, then with Union Pacific in 1881 (through the latter's Oregon Short Line).[3]

Twenty-first century network[edit]

As of 2004, the state of Oregon has over 2,400 mi (3,862 km) (route-miles) of track, and 170 mi (274 km) of railroad right-of-way after peaking in the 1930s at about 4,350 miles (7,001 km) of track.[5] Oregon is served by two Class 1 railroads, which account for over 1,100 miles (1,770 km) of trackage, and over twenty Class 2 and Class 3 operators. Three Amtrak routes serve the state, primarily through the Willamette Valley and south-central Oregon.[6] Rail is a key element of the mass transit system in the city of Portland and surrounding communities. And numerous tourist railways operate in the state.

Freight rail[edit]

Oregon is currently served by two Class 1 railroads, the BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad (UP). Prior to its acquisition by the UP in 1996, Oregon was also served by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company; the UP continues to operate on tracks acquired from the SP.

Union Pacific[edit]

The UPRR operates several mainlines in the state. The primary north/south UP mainline enters Oregon from California south of Klamath Falls, runs north through Central Oregon up to Chemult, then proceeds northwest via the Willamette Pass to Eugene. From Eugene, it then turns north again up the Willamette Valley, passing through cities including Albany, Salem, Woodburn, Canby, Oregon City, Milwaukie, terminating in Portland. The primary east/west UP mainline starts in Portland and heads east towards Troutdale where it enters the Columbia Gorge. It passes through the gorge on the Oregon side, serving cities such as Hood River, The Dalles, Boardman, and Hermiston. In the Hermiston area, the line branches; with one line heading northeast to Spokane, Washington; the other heading southeast roughly parallel to the old Oregon Trail and modern-day Interstate 84, passing through Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City, and Ontario before entering Idaho.

In addition to the mainlines, the UPRR also operates several branch lines in the state, serving the terminal district of Portland, the city of Umatilla, and the community of Pilot Rock.


The BNSF operates one significant mainline in the state, serving Central Oregon. The BNSF line enters the state southeast of Klamath Falls, joining the UPRR mainline there. The two lines share trackage between Klamath Falls and Chemult until the UPRR branches off towards Eugene; the BNSF continues in a northeasterly direction through central Oregon, providing service to Bend, Redmond, Madras. The line continues north of Madras along the Deschutes River until it interchanges with the UPRR mainline east of The Dalles; it then crosses the Columbia River and intersects with the BNSF mainline on the Washington side.

The BNSF also operates a mainline in the Portland area which is a key rail link despite having only approximately ten miles of trackage in Oregon; this link crosses the Columbia River into Vancouver, connecting with the BNSF line heading north to Seattle, as well as the BNSF line heading east along the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, towards the Tri-Cities and Spokane. (Eastbound Amtrak service from Portland crosses into Vancouver and uses the BNSF tracks, not the UPRR tracks in Oregon).

Portland Terminal Railroad[edit]

The Portland Terminal Railroad (PTRC) is a joint terminal railroad of the UPRR and the BNSF, which operates several key rail lines, as well as the Guild's Lake Yard, within the city of Portland. The PTRR facilitates interchange between the two Class 1 railroads; each railways' trains are considered "home" while on PTRC trackage.[7] It was called the Northern Pacific Terminal Company until changing its name to the Portland Terminal Railroad Company in 1965, at which time it was jointly owned by the Northern Pacific, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads.[8]

Short lines[edit]

A Portland and Western train in Beaverton

In addition to the two Class 1 carriers, there are numerous short line operators in the state of Oregon, with miles of trackage. Many places in Oregon, such as Washington, Yamhill, Polk, and Benton counties in the Willamette Valley; numerous communities in the Cascade foothills, the Oregon Coast, all of Southwestern Oregon, and the Wallowa Mountains, are not reachable via the Class 1 mainlines.

Short line operators include:[9]

Passenger service[edit]

Rail is also used in the state to provide both long-haul passenger service, as well as commuter and intra-urban transit, and excursion trains.


Long-haul passenger service is provided by Amtrak, which operates in Oregon on the north-south Union Pacific mainline south of Portland, and on BNSF tracks into Washington to the north and east. Three Amtrak routes provide service to Oregon:

In Portland, the Amtrak depot is Union Station, located in downtown. Active Amtrak depots are also located in Oregon City, Salem, Albany, Eugene, Chemult, and Klamath Falls.

Transit and commuter rail[edit]

Rail transit is a key part of the local and regional transportation network in Portland and its surrounding communities. Two electrically powered rail systems and one diesel-powered commuter rail system presently provide transit service in the Portland metropolitan area.

MAX light rail
Portland Streetcar
  • The Portland Streetcar is an electrically powered streetcar (or tram) system with two lines, which serves downtown Portland and adjacent areas. The first line, opened in 2001 and later designated the NS Line, runs between the Northwest district and the South Waterfront district, also providing service to the Pearl District and Portland State University (PSU). The CL Line was opened in 2012 and serves the Central Eastside District and the Lloyd District before crossing the Broadway Bridge to join the NS Line and follow its downtown section south as far as PSU. Unlike MAX, which primarily runs in its own right-of-way, the streetcar shares most of its right-of-way with vehicular traffic. The streetcar interchanges with both the MAX system and the Portland Aerial Tram, an aerial cableway.[24] The NS Line has been and extended three times since its 2001 opening and is currently 4 miles (6.4 km) end-to-end. The CL line extended the system by 3.3 miles (5.3 km) and has an overall length of 4.4 miles (7.1 km), end-to-end, when the 1.1-mile section shared with the NS Line is included.
WES commuter rail car
  • The Westside Express Service is a 14.7-mile (23.7 km) diesel-powered commuter rail service which began operating in early 2009 and runs between the cities of Beaverton and Wilsonville on existing freight trackage. It has three intermediate stops, two of which serve the cities of Tigard and Tualatin, and connects with MAX at the Beaverton Transit Center. The vehicles are operated by Portland and Western Railroad under contract with TriMet, but the transit agency owns the DMU-type rail cars and maintenance facility (and employs the vehicle maintenance personnel), and all funding for operations comes from TriMet.

Tourist railways[edit]

The Mount Hood Railroad

Numerous tourist and excursion, and heritage railways operate in the state of Oregon. Among them are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gorge Railroad History Program press release". Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum. May 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  2. ^ Lyn Topinka. "Railroads and the Columbia River". The Columbia River—A Photographic Journey. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  3. ^ a b Deumling, Dietrich (May 1972). The roles of the railroad in the development of the Grande Ronde Valley (masters thesis). Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona University. OCLC 4383986. 
  4. ^ Hilton, George W. (1997) [1990]. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 481. ISBN 0-8047-1731-1. 
  5. ^ Janet Adkins, Legislative Committee Services (May 2004). "Background Brief on Freight and Passenger Rail" (PDF). Oregon Legislature. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  6. ^ "Oregon Transportation Plan Technical Appendices" (PDF). Oregon Department of Transportation. September 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  7. ^ "Portland Terminal Railroad Company PTRC #649". Union Pacific Railroad. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  8. ^ "Name shifted by Terminal". The Oregonian, November 2, 1965, p. 17.
  9. ^ "Railroads operating in Oregon". Oregon Department of Transportation. 
  10. ^ "Albany Eastern homepage". 
  11. ^ "Current Projects: Rail Line Acquisition & Rehabilitation". Port of Coos Bay. Retrieved October 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ "City of Prineville Railway homepage". 
  13. ^ Untitled Document
  14. ^ "UP Customers: Short-line railroads: Klamath Northern Railway". Union Pacific Railroad. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  15. ^ "Modoc Northern homepage". 
  16. ^ http://www.mthoodrr.com Mount Hood Railroad homepage
  17. ^ http://www/potb.org Port of Tillamook Bay website
  18. ^ Genesee & Wyoming
  19. ^ "Coast Starlight". Amtrak. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  20. ^ "Amtrak Cascades". Amtrak. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  21. ^ "Empire Builder". Amtrak. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  22. ^ Stewart, Bill (September 21, 2000). "Local colors roll out: Tri-Met designates the Blue, Red and Yellow lines". The Oregonian.
  23. ^ "South Corridor Phase II: Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project". Metro. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  24. ^ "Portland Streetcar". Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  25. ^ "Mt. Hood Railroad". 
  26. ^ "Washington Park and Zoo Railway". Metro. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  27. ^ "Sumpter Valley Railway homepage". 

External links[edit]

Media related to Rail transportation in Oregon at Wikimedia Commons