Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad

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Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad
Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad 6116.jpg
2005 excursion on the POTB
Locale Washington and Tillamook counties, Oregon, United States
Dates of operation 1986–2007
Predecessor Southern Pacific Transportation Company[1]
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 101 miles (163 km)
Website potb.org/industrialpark/railroad.html

The Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad (POTB) is a 101-mile (163 km) shortline railroad in northwestern Oregon in the United States.[1] Purchased from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company in 1990 by the Port of Tillamook Bay, the railroad was used to transport lumber and agricultural products over the Northern Oregon Coast Range between the Oregon Coast and the Portland area until heavily damaged in a 2007 storm.[1][2][3][4] The Port of Tillamook Bay began operating the unincorporated railroad on March 27, 1986,[2] but the tracks were originally constructed by Oregon judge George R. Bagley and others in 1906.[5] The railroad's main line is between Hillsboro and Tillamook.[2]


The predecessor to the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad was a line built by the Pacific Railway and Navigation Company between 1906 and 1911.[6] The line, whose reporting mark was "PR&N", was sometimes known as the "Punk, Rotten, and Nasty" because of the wet and muddy working conditions for crews building the railroad through the Coast Range.[6] The line became the Tillamook Branch Line of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1916.[6]


In January 1990, the railroad was significantly damaged by a storm, and the cost of repairs was about $1.3 million.[7] In February 1990, after having leased the railroad, the Port of Tillamook Bay purchased it from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company for nearly $2.9 million.[8]

Twisted and broken railroad tracks above the muddy Salmonberry River in a forested canyon
The Salmonberry River and the damaged Hillsboro–Tillamook line in February 2008

In February 1996, more storms damaged the Hillsboro–Tillamook line. About 7 miles (11 km) of line was "nearly completely destroyed",[9] two bridges washed out, and the flooding Salmonberry River washed "boulders the size of cars" through one of the line's tunnels.[9] A preliminary estimate of the damage, given by the Oregon Department of Transportation, was $5 million.[9] In March, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, convinced that repairing the railroad would not harm steelhead runs, permitted repairs to continue through the end of the month.[10] In June, the state determined that the Port of Tillamook Bay had violated state environmental laws, such as by failing to control erosion in the Salmonberry River canyon.[11]

During a storm on December 2 and 3, 2007, known as the Great Coastal Gale, the railroad was again significantly damaged in the Salmonberry River canyon.[1] The cost of repairs to the railroad was first estimated at $20 million. Tillamook County logging companies faced increased costs because they had to transport timber by truck.[12] When the repair cost estimate was revised to $57.3 million, fisheries groups suggested permanently abandoning the railroad because they thought "that economically, the railroad is not viable, and environmentally, rebuilding it would affect fish runs already hammered by last winter's storms".[13] Workers began assessing the railroad damage in February 2008 in snowy, rugged terrain, and found that the flooding Salmonberry River had eroded steep embankments, damaging tunnels and collapsing trestles and bridges. Later that year, they hiked as far as 18 miles (29 km) each day to the canyon to further assess the damage.[14] The Port of Tillamook Bay opted to not repair the damaged track over the mountains, but it still owns more than 101 miles (163 km) of railroad right-of-way, including main line, spurs, and sidings.[1] The port also leases a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) section of track from Banks to Hillsboro to the Portland and Western Railroad and leases the coastal portion of the line to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.[1]

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad[edit]

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad (OCSR), a non-profit museum group, operates a heritage railroad in conjunction with the POTB that runs dinner trains on a portion of POTB track from Wheeler east to the Salmonberry River canyon[15] as well as various excursions from Wheeler and Garibaldi.[16] As of 2011, OCSR was negotiating a contract with the port commission to perform track maintenance in exchange for controlling the scheduling along the portion of the line.[17] There is disagreement between the port authority and OCSR about the percentage of ticket revenues to be paid to POTB.[17] OCSR wanted an agreement with POTB as assurance that if the scenic railroad invests $30,000 to $40,000 in a building to house a new, larger train engine, that the tracks would not be used for another purpose.[17] Meanwhile the port commission said it had received an offer of more than $4 million to sell the railroad for scrap, an amount that would pay off the nearly $1.7 million in debts the port has accrued on the railroad.[17] A former port commissioner speaking on behalf of OCSR believed, however, that the port would have trouble gaining federal approval to completely abandon the rail line.[17]

In March 2012, OCSR agreed to lease from POTB 46 miles (74 km) of line from the Salmonberry River to Tillamook.[18] This would effectively make the entire line a tourist railroad. OCSR plans to extend services to Tillamook as soon as practicable, with extension to the north a future possibility.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad". Port of Tillamook Bay. Retrieved June 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Robertson, Donald B. (1995). Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-87004-366-6. 
  3. ^ "Railroads operating in Oregon" (PDF). Oregon Department of Transportation. Retrieved July 3, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Worst is over for storm victims in Oregon". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Associated Press. January 12, 1990. p. A4. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  5. ^ Lockley, Fred (1928). History of the Columbia River Valley From the Dalles to the Sea. Chicago, Illinois: S. J. Clarke Publishing. pp. 709–710. 
  6. ^ a b c "Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad". Active Short Lines of the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  7. ^ Associated Press (January 25, 1990). "Coastal county to get storm aid". The Bulletin. Bend, Oregon. p. A4. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  8. ^ Associated Press (February 4, 1990). "Tillamook port buys rail line". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. p. 2D. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c "Flooding and mudslides cripple railroading in the Pacific Northwest". Pacific RailNews: 10–11. April 1996. 
  10. ^ "In-stream railroad repairs to continue". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. March 23, 1996. p. 3B. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Tillamook Railroad needs oversight". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. Associated Press. June 4, 1996. p. 2E. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Tillamook port cuts back operations after railroad is devastated". The Daily Astorian. Astoria, Oregon. December 7, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  13. ^ Milstein, Michael (September 30, 2008). "Tillamook RR repair cost tops $57 million". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad damages". CW Construction. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Nehalem River Dinner Train". Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Special Excursions". Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. Retrieved October 11, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Swindler, Samantha (June 29, 2011). "Still no agreement between Port, OCSR". The Tillamook Headlight-Herald. Tillamook, Oregon. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  18. ^ Rimel, Anthony (April 4, 2012). "Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad wins lease to extend track". The Daily Astorian. Astoria, Oregon. Coast River Business Journal. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°25′09″N 123°48′19″W / 45.419171°N 123.805397°W / 45.419171; -123.805397