Pacific Railroad
Preservation Assoc.

Portland's Railroad History

Railroads were the largest industry in the United States by the late 1800s, and they held a commanding share of the transportation market for both freight and passengers until well after World War I. As a result, a city's fortunes were largely dependent on its rail connections. In that respect, Portland has been very fortunate, as the following timeline illustrates:

Portage tramway at Oregon City

The portage railway is visible next to Imperial Mills in this view of Oregon City and Willamette Falls.

Oregon City, OR, 1867

Photo by Carleton E. Watkins

Courtesy Oregon Historical Society Oregon History Project

 

The Oregon Portage Railroad near present-day Cascade Locks in 1867

Oregon Portage Railroad

Near Cascade Locks, OR, 1867

Photo by Carleton E. Watkins

 

The Oregon Pony on display at Union Station

The "Oregon Pony" on display at Union Station

Portland, OR

Image courtesy Oregon State Library

 

Cascade Portage Railroad near Celilo, OR

An eastbound Cascade Portage Railroad train approaching Celilo Falls led by the J. C. Ainsworth, built by Danforth, Cooke & Co. of Paterson, NJ

West of Celilo, OR, 1867

Photo by Carleton E. Watkins

Courtesy Oregon Historical Society Oregon History Project

 

Oregon and California 4-4-0 with three-car passenger train.

Oregon & California Railroad passenger train

Between New Era and Canby, OR, 1870

Courtesy of the Salem Public Library

 

OR&N at the Pillars of Hercules

An Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. train splitting the Pillars of Hercules

Corbett, OR, sometime between 1879 and 1909

Courtesy of the Salem Public Library

 

Villard Gold Spike Excursion in The Dalles, OR in 1883

The first train between Portland and New York City,
the Villard Gold Spike Excursion

The Dalles, OR, October 2, 1883

Courtesy of the Salem Public Library

 

Car ferry Tacoma carries trains between Goble and Kalama, WA, for the Northern Pacific Railway

Car ferry Tacoma carries trains between Goble, OR, and Kalama, WA, for the Northern Pacific Railway.

 

1901 Postcard of Portland's Union Depot

Postcard of Portland's Union Depot

Portland, OR, ca. 1901

 

OE construction train in Salem, OR

Oregon Electric construction train
along the Willamette Slough

Salem, OR, 1909

Courtesy of the Salem Public Library

 

A pile driver builds a trestle during the construction of the Spokane, Portand & Seattle Railway

A pile driver builds a trestle during the construction of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway

 

CM&StP's Olympian

The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad's premier passenger train, the "Olympian," glides down the mountains in the early years of the Pacific Extension before the road decided to electrify the line over the Cascades (a project completed in 1919).

1913

Asahel Curtis

 

The City of Portland races through Wyoming at 75mph as Train #2.

UP's "City of Portland" races through Wyoming at 75mph as Train #2.

Cheyenne, WY, July 7, 1935

From the collection of Otto Perry held at the
Western History Department of the Denver Public Library

 

Capsule of the BN merger: Freshly painted BN U33C #5738 leads units from the former NP, GN, and CBQ

Capsule of the BN merger: Brand new BN U33C #5738 leads units from the former NP, GN, and CB&Q.

Livingston, MT, August, 1971

Photo by Drew Jacksich, copyright © 1971

 

Amtrak's Empire Builder makes a stop in Glacier Park, still the highlight of this former GN service.

Belton, MT, May, 1976

Photo by Jim Sinclair, copyright © 1976

 

Milwaukee Road GEs haul the daily northbound freight across the Willamette River Swing Bridge

Milwaukee Road GEs haul the daily northbound freight across the Willamette River Swing Bridge

St. Johns, Portland, OR, June, 1975

Photo by Jim Munding, copyright © 1975

 

A Portland & Western train rolls through the rich Tualatin Valley farmland west of Portland

A Portland & Western train rolls through the rich Tualatin Valley farmland west of Portland.

North Plains, OR, August 16, 2011

Photo by Jeremy Klitzke, copyright © 2011

 

UP and BNSF trains at Vancouver Station

Southbound BNSF and UP freights en route to Portland seen in front of Amtrak's Vancouver Station

Vancouver, WA, March 28, 2004

Photo by Dale Skyllingstad, copyright © 2004

 

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