Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a car

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Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a car

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Mon May 17, 2010 11:13 am

Hello,
Labor Day weekend of 2010: Fri night into Sat, I'm going to be in Portland. Where are the best places you can get to WITHOUT a car in the that area? Thanks.
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby westr » Mon May 17, 2010 8:48 pm

Union Station is a pretty good spot, and easy to get to by bus or light rail. There is a pedestrian bridge over the platforms and tracks, and a grade crossing near each end within walking distance. There is a lot of Amtrak action and some freight trains. More freight can be seen on the UP main line on the other side of the nearby Steel Bridge, which can be walked across. Here are some of my videos from Union Station:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgZmNxjwF_I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-uXZj5z7_0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdqXHn0NPkE

Portland has a pretty good transit system, so there are a lot of places a bus could take you if you plan ahead. Possibilities include Guilds Lake Yard along Highway 30 (St. Helens Road) in NW Portland, and a number of places along the UP line in SE Portland, Milwaukie and Oregon City. You might take a look at some maps and at http://trimet.org.

Vancouver, Washington is right across the Columbia River from Portland. The Vancouver Amtrak station sits inside a busy wye junction with as much Amtrak action as Portland Union Station and lots of freight. The platforms are open and station personel and RR police are tolerant of railfans as long as you stay out of the way, off the tracks and out of places you don't belong. Vancouver is 15-30 minutes from Portland by Amtrak Cascades, and I think there is bus service too. Here are some of my videos from Vancouver:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUPJvFnwVvA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gbka5FaoHZ0
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Tue May 18, 2010 6:04 am

thanks for the rundown. I heard that Vancouver is good. Probably morning shots are better for anything on the PDX-SEA main, especially Amtraks, right.

Does Forest Park have good viewing areas too?

Which neighborhoods should I avoid, crimewise?
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby wigwagfan » Tue May 18, 2010 2:33 pm

Labor Day weekend of 2010: Fri night into Sat, I'm going to be in Portland.


Probably the best places will be the ones up close: Union Station has a handful of freight movements a day and you can pretty much walk all around it - there are grade crossings at both Naito Parkway and N.W. 9th Avenue; the Eastbank Esplanade crosses the UP owned Steel Bridge right beside the tracks and it'll take you to East Portland, where the UP Graham Line, the lead to Albina Yard, the Steel Bridge, and the old SP Valley Main converge.

Downtown, you have MAX and Streetcar operations. If you ride the Streetcar to its southern terminus you can catch a Willamette Shore Trolley excursion to Lake Oswego on a 1950s era Broadway car operating on the old Oregonian Railway/Portland, Eugene & Eastern/Southern Pacific's Jefferson Street Branch, and one of the two original routes of the Red Electrics out of Portland.

You could take MAX out to Beaverton and Hillsboro and get a glimpse of Portland & Western operations; but WES will not be in operation on a weekend/holiday. However the Oregon Zoo will be open and will likely have all three trains in operation.

TriMet's #17 Holgate bus will get you to UP's (ex-SP) Brooklyn Yard; Holgate passes over the yard at its mid-point, and you can get a glimpse of the roundhouse that is home to the SP 4449, SP&S 700 and the OR&N 197 (a.k.a. UP 3203), plus assorted other pieces of equipment. The #17 bus is a "Frequent Service" bus so they run somewhat frequently (I believe it's now every 20 minutes or so). The #17 bus in the opposite direction ("NW 21st Avenue") will get you to Sauvie's Island on a Saturday which will pass by the Lake and Willbridge Yards, but there are much better places to railfan. You'd almost be better just getting an Amtrak ticket between Portland and Vancouver and return. You can also catch a glimpse of the P&W's A-Line if you head out all the way to Sauvie Island.

UP's Albina Yard can be reached from the Yellow Line MAX at the Albina/Mississippi stop; or you can go up one stop to Overlook Park which gives a great aerial view of the yard and the Fremont Bridge. You could take the Yellow Line to the Vanport station, hop on a C-Tran bus across the river to Vancouver and catch some BNSF action in its downtown area (although there is currently no transit service to the Amtrak station, but if you don't mind a little bit of a walk...) The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is within walking distance, however, and the BNSF mainline passes along its southern boundary.

The Oregon Pacific Railroad in Milwaukie has a neat collection of equipment, and you can reach it by TriMet's #33 bus (Frequent Service) or #70 bus (does not go downtown but you can catch it at the Rose Quarter Transit Center). The #31, #32 buses will also get you there. The #32 and #33 buses continue to Oregon City where you can watch the UP (ex-SP) mainline pass through the downtown along the bluff; check out the paper mill and its interesting switching track from the top of the Oregon City Elevator (although there are no rail operations during the day), and walk across the Oregon City Bridge and check out the Willamette Falls Lock which has been restored back to operation. There's also a model railroad hobby shop in downtown Oregon City along with an antique store that carries quite a bit of railroad stuff.

Finally, you could take TriMet's #77 bus out to Troutdale and check out the Troutdale historical museum housed in a former UP depot, along with a UP caboose, right next to the UP mainline as it exits the Columbia Gorge and crosses the Sandy River.

If you want to partake in Portland's bicycling culture, the Springwater Trail Corridor is Portland's main attraction and a rails-to-trail, on the old Portland Traction Company interurban line from Portland to Gresham and Boring. About 25 miles one way but it's an easy, nearly grade-less trail. Ride one way, come back on MAX. Or ride the Green line to Lents, ride the trail to Gresham and return on MAX. If you are a bicyclist, there are a lot of other opportunities for you to railfan in the Portland metro area - in the past I would ride from my home in Tigard to Tualatin, catch a WES train to Beaverton and ride back home on the Fanno Creek Greenway.
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby wigwagfan » Tue May 18, 2010 2:39 pm

njt/mnrrbuff wrote:Does Forest Park have good viewing areas too?

Never really been to Forest Park, but you'd need a really good lens if you found a place with a view. At most you'd get Lake and Willbridge Yards. Like I said in my other post, there are better places to railfan.
njt/mnrrbuff wrote:Which neighborhoods should I avoid, crimewise?

You know, this is actually a hard question. There aren't really any "bad" parts of town like there were in the '80s. Rockwood would be a place I would try to avoid, but there aren't anything of interest to railfans there aside from MAX - and if you just stay on MAX and ride through you probably won't have a problem. (And whatever problem you could run into, isn't restricted to Rockwood.) S.E. 82nd Avenue has its bad parts, but again - you probably wouldn't be there anyways.

When I'm out and about railfanning I have no problem even in the industrial areas. The people that cause problems don't seem to linger in one place. When riding MAX just use your street smarts like you would in any other town. More than likely you're safer on the train than getting off; most people who cause problems aren't going to go after a random person but someone known to them; pickpocketing is not a huge issue (but don't encourage it); and you'll be more annoyed by panhandlers than anything else (which Portland, and downtown Portland in particular, have no shortage of). Just don't talk to them and keep moving - and don't give them anything (trust me - if you do, you'll see than 45 minutes later smoking a cigarette or with a bottle of cheap booze.) If you want to help, buy a copy of "Street Roots" which is a newspaper hawked by street vendors or donate to a known charity.
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Tue May 18, 2010 3:48 pm

Everyone, thanks for the tips. Depending on how late 14 is into PDX on the Friday before Labor Day, I may take a spin on WES. I'm also toying with the idea about spending an additional day in the PDX area.
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby westr » Sat May 22, 2010 8:19 pm

njt/mnrrbuff wrote:thanks for the rundown. I heard that Vancouver is good. Probably morning shots are better for anything on the PDX-SEA main, especially Amtraks, right.

Does Forest Park have good viewing areas too?

Which neighborhoods should I avoid, crimewise?


In Vancouver, morning is best for the Portland-Seattle line, but it is on a curve there so you can make it work well into the afternoon without shooting directly into the sun. The afternoon is better for the freight trains approaching from the east, especially those headed north, and those from the north turning east, so its a good spot anytime.

Portland Union Station seems to be best around midday. There's a lot of other buildings, bridges and trees to cast shadows, so when the shadows are smaller it is better. The grade crossings at each end of Union Station work when the shadows are longer. 9th avenue crossing at the north end of Union Station is a good morning spot and decent in the afternoon. The Naito Parkway crossing at the south end can work at any time, depending on which way the train is going.

You can find spots on either side of the UP tracks in SE Portland, and Downtown Oregon City has some good afternoon spots along the bluffs if you venture that far.

I don't think Forest Park would be worthwhile. You can do better along Highway 30/St. Helens Road and save yourself a long hike. There are some poles in the way (they'd also be in the way from the park) and no sidewalk on the side the tracks are on, so its not a perfect spot (it was better years ago) but sometimes there's interesting pool power sitting in plain sight at the BNSF end, and some grade crossings that might offer some good shots. Afternoon is best, especially for departing trains.

I can't think of anywhere in Portland I'd be particularly concerned about during the day. After dark there are some areas I'd think twice about, but I don't see you having any reason to end up in them.
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Re: Railfanning in Portland: Places you can get to WITHOUT a

Postby wigwagfan » Sun May 23, 2010 7:56 am

westr wrote:You can do better along Highway 30/St. Helens Road and save yourself a long hike. There are some poles in the way (they'd also be in the way from the park) and no sidewalk on the side the tracks are on, so its not a perfect spot (it was better years ago) but sometimes there's interesting pool power sitting in plain sight at the BNSF end, and some grade crossings that might offer some good shots.


The grade crossings have been closed and fenced; there were two - one (Doane Avenue) next to the Willbridge Yard Office (probably wouldn't hang out at that crossing being in plain view, and the BNSF cops work there); and one (Balboa Avenue) leading to the garbage transfer center (you could probably get there coming in from Front Avenue without being too conspicuous, but unless you actually catch a moving train there really isn't much there. Also keep in mind it is right next to a petroleum terminal, so you probably don't want to hang out there very long anyways.) Unfortunately the best place that I used to use to park was turned into a not so friendly business; although I believe it has since closed - I still won't hang out in their parking lot. There aren't many other places to park on the west side of U.S. 30.

Another good place to go would be N. Willamette Boulevard, as it crosses over the BNSF mainline. This gives you a spectacular "from high" view looking down at BNSF and Amtrak. The trick is that you'll be looking south over the Willamette River draw. There are sidewalks on the bridge and this is one of those probably-not-after-dark places, but during the day it's fine. If you continue east along Willamette Boulevard to Woolsey Avenue, you can park your car and the bluff is a public park that you can look down onto the UP line as it enters the North Portland Tunnel.

There's also quite a bit of industrial track south of Yeon Avenue (U.S. 30) south to St. Helens Road (old Highway 30) that is switched by a BN SW-1000 and a caboose. If you have a bike, it's easy to check it out; but TriMet's line 17 bus covers much of this area and is easy to get to from downtown. If you ride the #17 bus to Montgomery Park, you can actually check out this interesting building which was a one-time Montgomery Wards warehouse, and what is today the front entrance used to be a three-track interior loading dock (there's an interpretive sign at the front of the building with a picture showing boxcars being shoved into the building). The track leading up to the building still exists, through the ESCO complex (don't walk through it), and on the other side on York Street (which is still used but I don't know when they switch it).
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