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Union Pacific’s first Streamliner, the “City of Portland”, operated between Portland and Chicago. Service was inaugurated on June 6, 1935 and it operated until the mid-1950’s.

Newspaper ad from June 1935

Portland was built by railroads and streetcars. The railroads brought the people and supplies to Portland. The streetcars allowed people to live away from the city and brought them back to earn a living, buy food and clothing and take them to school, to church and to connect them with the rest of the country. They contributed more to the livability and growth of Portland than any other factor.

Early settlers claimed the land that became Portland in 1843 and by 1849 the town had grown enough to have a Post Office. New settlers sailed from California up the coast to the Columbia River and then down the Willamette River for a short way to get to Portland, or they braved the elements and travelled overland by wagon train.

Railroad History in Oregon began when Ben Holliday started building the Oregon & California Railroad in 1869. He made it to McMinnvile in 1872 and ran out of money. Henry Villard, who represented German bondholders took control of the line. It took 8 years for construction to resume. On May 4, 1884 Villard got as far as Ashland before the line was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Service from Portland to California finally opened in 1887.

Rail service from Portland to the east opened in 1883 when the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company, which went east of Portland along the Columbia River, and connected with the Northern Pacific Railroad at Wallula Junction, which is south of Tri-Cities, Washington.

A second transcontenental railroad opened in 1884 when the OR&N connected with the Oregon Short Line and the Union Pacific at Huntington, Oregon.

Railroads grew in popularity and eventually they became the preferred method of travel, in the days before airplanes and busses. Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, Great Northern and Southern Pacific all served Portland with passenger and freight service.

A magnificent Union Station stands today as a tribute to the Railroads that once called upon our fair city and helped build Portland into the thriving metropolis that it is today


Portland’s Union Depot, now known as Union Station, was built in 1893 and 1894 to house Henry Villard’s Northern Pacific Terminal Company. It served as a station for all of Portland’s incoming and outgoing trains.  Henry Van Brunt of Boston designed Union Station and he also designed stations in Ogden, Omaha and Cheyenne.

An early advertisment for a Northern Pacific Railroad booklet which shows many of the sites along the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Union Station’s busiest days began on September 10, 1922 when the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad started operating all of its trains at Union Station.

Eastern view of Union Station where trains arrived and departed. In its heyday, a total of 92 trains called on Portland daily. There were fifty-two steam trains and thirty-eight electric trains coming or going every 11 minutes from 6:30 am to 11:30 pm. Service has dwindled to a handful of trains.

Hotel busses waited for incoming passengers to whisk them away to their evening accomodations.

Interior view of the News Stand at Union Station about 1910. The News Stand area is curently used for the ticket office. Note the convenience of the cuspidor at the end of the bench.


Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited - “The Crack Train of the Northwest”

Union Pacific Motor Car 7

Early view of an Oregon Electric Train departing Salem for Portland

Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited Diesel Streamliner

Over the years, the Railroads have merged and consolidated. Union Pacific absorbed Southern Pacific and continues to provide Freight Service to Portland, as does the merged Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Union Pacific has the largest fleet of diesel locomotives, serving 23 states from the Midwest to the West and Gulf Coasts on 36,000 miles of tracks.

Amtrak provides passenger service to Portland. You can travel North via Seattle and East via Spokane as well as South to Los Angeles. There are three trains daily to Seattle and one goes on to Vancouver, B.C. There is one train daily to Los Angeles.

Contemporary view of a Talgo Train leaving Union Station for Eugene

The restored Southern Pacific 4449 in its home city, Portland, Oregon, at Union Station. This train makes periodic excursions such as the run to the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and it pulled the Freedom Train in 1976.

The city of Portland is also home to “The Lady” the old SP&S 700 which makes an occasional run as well. Still in restoration is the Oregon Railroad & Navigation #197 which last saw service for Union Pacific. All three steam locomotives were retired in the 1950’s and made their home at Oaks Park. Eventually they ended up at Brooklyn Roundhouse over a 20-year period from 1975 to 1996 where they remain when not in service.

The Steamer Oregon is shown here in 1959 at the Oregon Centennial Exposition. Currently, it runs daily at the Oregon Zoo.

Portland Streetcars

Council Crest Trolleys


Zoo Trains

Train Depots

Kavanagh Transit Systems is a very comprehensive guide to Rail Systems of the world

Last updated 06-25-06

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