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Union Pacific Umatilla Branch

Union Pacific
Umatilla Branch

The original extension of the Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad west from Wallula followed the south bank of the Columbia River to Umatilla. The small community, which lay on the route of the completed OR&N main line, gained additional prominence in March 1881 when the company started building the Baker City branch south from this point. Shortages of men and materials slowed construction of the Baker City branch to a crawl, and completing the first forty-three miles to Pendleton lasted until the end of August 1882.

Umatilla's status as a railroad town started to decline in 1915 when Union Pacific completed a shortcut for the westbound traffic that bypassed the city to the south. Only a short stretch of the old mainline running west from Umatilla along the south bank of the Columbia survived to serve local shippers before it was abandoned. The mainline to Spokane continued to pass through town until 1951, when the McNary dam inundated the original mainline just upstream from Umatilla. A new line built from the new classification yard established at Hinkle ran to a connection with the original mainline above the reservoir.

The original ten miles of the OR&N Baker City branch thus became a stub end branchline. Numerous shippers in Umatilla keep UP trains rolling up from Hinkle Yard on a consistent basis.


A map of the key railroads in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington.


Union Pacific 2-8-0 #756 in Umatilla on 25 August 1934. Jeff Moore collection.