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Portland Union Station


  Here are the Portland Union Station tracks as seen from the overhead pedestrian walkway connecting the depot with the Yards at Union Station, an apartment complex built on the site of the old Northern Pacific Terminal freight yard east of the depot complex. Union Station

The photo, taken July 5, 2005, shows (left) the consist of Amtrak's Empire Builder preparing to cross the Willamette River and turn on the East Portland wye before its return trip to Chicago; Former CB&Q California Zephyr dome coach Silver Lariat (center) with several other privately-owned railcars in town for the 2005 NRHS convention; and an Amtrak Cascades TALGO set (right) laying over before its early evening departure for Seattle.

Portland Union Station, at 800 NW 6th Avenue in Portland, is the hub of Amtrak operations in the Rose City. The depot originally opened in 1896 and, over the years, served intercity trains of the Northern Pacific; Southern Pacific; Great Northern; Spokane, Portland & Seattle; and Union Pacific.

From 1915 to 1929, the station also served as the Portland terminus for Southern Pacific's Red Electric interurban trains, which ran to several suburban Portland towns and into the western Willamette River valley.


  Here's the Silver Lariat again, sandwiched between Union Pacific SD70M #5032 and BNSF C44-9W #4595 at the north end of Union Station May 20, 2003. The privately-owned Vista-Dome was in the Pacific Northwest as part of an Operation Lifesaver special between Eugene, Ore. and Bellingham, Wash.

Current Amtrak operations at Portland include the daily Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight, Portland-Chicago Empire Builder, and four Cascades corridor trains; one Portland-Seattle, one Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, B.C., and two between Eugene, Ore. and Seattle.

Bi-level Superliner cars equip both the Starlight and the Builder, while a combination of American-built TALGO train sets and Horizon conventional cars equips the Cascades trains.

Amtrak also provides Thruway bus services, connecting to and from the Builder and the Cascades trains. These operate daily between Portland and Eugene and between Portland and Astoria.


  On Sep. 29, 2002, Union Pacific AC44CW-CTE #5800 and C44-9W #9782 wait on Track 1 before heading across the Willamette River to UP's Albina Yard. Amtrak had borrowed them off a UP freight to aid the crippled P42s on Coast Starlight #14. They are parked next to the "Mt. Rainier", one of Amtrak's U.S.-built TALGO trains that entered service on the corridor in 1999. Amtrak 464

Union Station is directly accessible from both the Broadway and Steel Bridges across the Willamette River. Broadway crosses the tracks on an overpass just north of the depot, and its ramp passes right in front of it.

Coming off the Glisan Street ramp from the Steel Bridge, a right turn onto NW 6th Avenue leads to the front of the depot.

There are some city-operated metered parking spaces directly in front of the station, and these go quickly during the day. There are regular parking patrols around the complex, and violators will get ticketed for illegal parking. The city of Portland operates a Smart Park garage on NW Station Way at the north end of the depot.

If driving to the station area, also remember that NW 5th Avenue (southbound) and 6th Avenue (northbound) are ONE-WAY streets, since they are part of the downtown transit mall.


  Union Pacific SD40M-2 #8690, still in its old Southern Pacific color scheme, leads an Amtrak Cascades set at Union Station Oct. 19, 2000. The freight locomotive was substituting for the train's cab car, which Amtrak mechanical crews had sidelined with a bad wheel.

The depot complex is actually oriented northwest to southeast, so southbound or eastbound trains are best photographed in the morning and northbound or westbound trains in the afternoon.

The area between the station and Front Avenue/Naito Parkway, once the Northern Pacific Terminal Company freight yard, is now crowded with new residential and commercial buildings as the City of Portland continues to redevelop the area around the station.

The Broadway overpass just north of the high central train shed provides an excellent overhead photo location, including long shots of trains entering the station at either end.

Grade crossings at both ends of the station (NW Naito Parkway to the south and NW 9th Avenue to the north) also provide good photo angles.

A pedestrian overpass crosses the tracks at the south end of the main station area, connecting it with the new building complex to the east; it also provides several good photo possibilities.

The Broadway Bridge overpass was the site of traffic mishaps in 1997, 1998 and 1999 involving automobiles crashing through the bridge railing onto the tracks below or onto the station building itself.

The auto in the 1997 crash actually landed on top of a slow-moving Empire Builder train set just returning to the station on Track 2 after turning on the East Portland wye. It got wedged between one of the train's coaches and an express boxcar on Track 1.


  Amtrak F40PH #231 trails a P42 on the American Orient Express at Union Station May 3, 1999. The luxury streamliner was on a trip down the Pacific coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. After Amtrak retired it, this unit was saved by a Portland-area railfan and stored at the Brooklyn yard roundhouse.

The station actually serves as an integral portion of an intermodal hub in downtown Portland, as it lies at the north end of the downtown transit mall.

The Portland Streetcar runs just a few blocks away; the agency's A Loop and B Loop lines run across the Broadway Bridge and onto the east bank. They follow the Lovejoy Street ramp and pass by the north end of the station complex.

The TriMet light rail alignment along the Transit Mall serves Union Station with Green Line, Yellow Line and Orange Line trains. The alignment comes off the Glisan Street ramp from the Steel Bridge, turning onto SW 3rd Avenue as it enters the depot complex. TriMet took over the old VC Tower and turned it into a signal control center for the new line.


  F59PHI #467, on a Cascades train set, shares a platform with P42 #126 on the Empire Builder. The units wear two of Amtrak's most distinctive color schemes; the green, cream and copper brown found on Cascades rolling stock, and the blue, red and silver grey "wave" scheme based on Amtrak's Acela colors. The F59PHI units were replaced by Siemens SC-44 diesels beginning in 2017, and the P42s are projected for replacement by Siemens ALC42 diesels that began arriving in 2022.

In addition to its passenger trains, the station also sees regular freight and miscellaneous movements. Several transfer runs connect Lake Yard with Brooklyn and Albina Yards, and a daily Portland & Western local operates through the depot between Vancouver, Wash. and Albany, Ore. (via UP trackage rights between Portland and Salem, and the former BNSF, now P&W line from Salem to Albany).

UP also runs daily manifest freights through the station in and out of Lake Yard. Occasional military trains have passed through, as well as UP trains detouring between East Portland and North Portland Junction.

An Albina-Lake Yard transfer derailed on the curve at Naito Parkway Dec. 14, 1999. It broke an adjacent natural gas valve, and the resulting fire threatened to overheat the Steel Bridge structure, causing it to lose stability. Portland firefighters successfully cooled the steel until crews secured the broken gas line.


  Amtrak P32-8BWH #507 switches a cut of private cars on Track 1 July 5, 2005. It is a passenger variant of GE's B40-8W, one of 20 that Amtrak acquired in the early 1990s. Amtrak used these for several years as primary power for the Coast Starlight. Most are now used as switchers and protect power across the Amtrak system. Amtrak #566

Portland Union Station is no stranger to special movements and distinctive visitors. The National Railway Historical Society convention in July 2005 brought in a wide variety of classic and modern railroad equipment, including the only operating example of Milwaukee Road's Skytop parlor-observation. A July 6 excursion up the Columbia River Gorge to Wishram, Wash. was the first ever mainline doubleheader of the city's own SP&S 4-8-4 #700 and SP Daylight 4-8-4 #4449.

The ABB X2000 from Sweden visited the station in July 1993, while a Danish-built ABB IC3 Flexliner from the Israeli State Railways came to the area in May 1997 for two weeks of displays and demonstration runs. The new Colorado Railcar Aero DMU railcar passed through in November 2002 during its national tour. The now-defunct company subsequently built a small fleet of DMUs for TriMet's regional rail service between Beaverton and Wilsonville.

Even the U.S.-built Cascades TALGO VI train sets that operated through the station from 1998 to 2020 were quite unique, though passengers saw them daily; their copper brown, green and off-white "latte and cream in the woods" color scheme is a radical departure from other Amtrak trains. The unusual profile of the 1998 consists -- set off by large aerodynamic fins on their end cars -- made them look like classic automobiles out of the 1950s. The two TALGO VIII sets remaining in the service have a unique cab/power car on one end with a cab profile resembling the cartoon tow truck "Mater" from the Cars movies made by Disney/Pixar

Amtrak and WSDOT have ordered a new fleet of Siemens Airo trainsets for regional services throughout the U.S, including the Cascades. Eight six-car consists, consisting of cab-coach, coach and cafe-business coach units, are due to begin arriving in 2025. These will wear a variation of the current Cascades scheme .



Portland's own former Spokane, Portland & Seattle 4-8-4 #700 passes VC Tower Dec. 20, 2004 with a Christmas special enroute to Vancouver, Wash. for a BNSF employee party. The 1938-vintage Baldwin stopped briefly at Union Station to drop off Santa Claus for the annual Amtrak holiday open house.

The present-day station has five tracks. Track 1, next to the building, is used primarily for storage. Tracks 2 and 3 share one platform and Tracks 4 and 5 share another.

The high central train shed opposite the main waiting room allows arriving and departing passengers to avoid the often rainy weather found in the Pacific Northwest. The Coast Starlight, with its longer consist, most often uses Track 5, which is the only one that does not cross underneath the high shed.

Movements on the inner tracks block access to the outer tracks; warning lights and announcements help protect passengers waiting to cross through the shed. Overhead, the station's familiar clock tower continues to beckon travelers with its illuminated signs reading Union Station and Go by Train.

Interior improvements, in addition to the restoration of the depot's large waiting room, include one of Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounges for first class passengers.


Amtrak's Thruway services complement trains along the corridor between Portland and Eugene and also connect Oregon communities not on the rail line. This motor coach, owned by Oregon Coachways, sported a distinctive paint scheme using the Cascades TALGO.

The Portland Development Commission continues to redevelop the area north of the station. NW Station Way, an extension of 6th Avenue, now connects the depot to the new Station Place development containing residential, retail and business space, as well as the city-owned Smart Park garage.


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