Perhaps more than anything else Oregon railroads are known for offering beautiful scenery with the Cascades, Columbia River and of course, northern Pacific Coast all found within the state. Today the Beaver State is the realm of the Union Pacific, and to a lesser extent BNSF Railway, although at one time the state was home to several classic lines such as the Southern Pacific, which once dominated the state (and was highly regarded among railfans for its rugged branch lines tapping local timber interests and coastal communities). In recent years shortlines (and a few regionals) have also carved out a living in Oregon such as the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad and Idaho, Northern & Pacific. Also, please note that throughout the article here there are links included to other pages within the site that relate to Oregon railroads.
Oregon railroads date back to May 20, 1861 when the small 5-mile Oregon Portage Railroad took over for mules hauling goods between Tanner Creek to the head of the Cascade Rapids (the railroad had dated as far back as 1858 using horse and mule power). The railroad's first locomotive, the Oregon Pony was also the first steam locomotive to operate in the Pacific Northwest and today is preserved in Cascade Locks, Oregon. The railroad eventually grew to a length of fifteen miles and its use ebbed and flowed throughout the 19th century as demand warranted. In 1891 it was reactivated as a three-foot narrow-gauge operation but it would finally cease altogether in 1896.
In succeeding years following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, the venerable Southern Pacific would come to dominate rail operations in the state although other classic lines could also be found in Oregon. These included:
Today, Oregon's railroad network is mostly the realm of Union Pacific although, as mentioned before, BNSF also has a small presence in the state. The rest is operated by Class II, regionals Central Oregon & Pacific and Portland & Western as well as shortlines Albany & Eastern, City of Prineville Railway, Hampton Railway, Idaho, Northern & Pacific, Klamath Northern, Lake County Railroad, Oregon Pacific Railroad, Palouse River & Coulee City, Peninsula Terminal Company, Port of Tillamook Bay, Portland Terminal Railroad, Wallowa Union Railroad, White City Terminal & Utility Company, Willamette & Pacific Railroad, and the Willamette Valley Railway. To learn more about these railroads please click here to visit the Oregon career guide page.
Today, Oregon is home to nearly 2,500 miles of rails with its one-time high of about 3,300 miles occurring during the 1920s. Interestingly, the state has only lost about 25% of its infrastructure, a remarkably low number considering most states have lost between 45% and 50%. For more information about Oregon railroads in terms or route mileage over the years please have a look at the chart below.
Although Union Pacific's famous City of Portland and Southern Pacific's Shasta Daylight passenger trains no longer calls to Portland Union Station Amtrak still does with its Empire Builder and Coast Starlight services (and the building has also been completely restored). Aside from these services Amtrak operates the Cacades from Portland to Seattle four times a day with two trips daily to Eugene as well. To learn more about the classic streamliners that served Oregon please click here. Additionally, Amtrak's website provides current services the carrier offers in the state.
Aside from the passenger and freight trains, Oregon railroads are home to several museums and tourist railroads such as the Oregon Electric Railway Museum and very popular Moot Hood Railroad, which features spectacular views of Mount Hood (and even includes a dinner train). Also, for great reading about several now-abandoned Oregon rail lines please click here.
In all, Oregon railroads feature some of the most stunning scenery one can find anywhere in the country whether you are after main line railroading, local short line service or just a ride on a train to enjoy views of the Oregon countryside.
For more reading about Oregon's rail history you might want to pick up a copy of Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History Vol. III: Oregon and Washington by author Don Robertson. The book gives a fine, in depth account in more than 300 pages covering both the history and operations of railroads in both states. Also, for more reading about railroads in the west you might want to consider picking up a copy of the book The Story of the Western Railroads: From 1852 Through the Reign of the Giants by Robert Riegel, which describes western railroading from its beginnings in the 1850s, before the transcontinental line was built (when west meant across the Mississippi) to how the large systems that dominated the 20th century came about. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.