SP Big Electrics in Portland

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Otto Vondrak
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SP Big Electrics in Portland

Post by Otto Vondrak » Wed Oct 22, 2008 2:43 pm

westr wrote:There are also some historical maps at http://pdxhistory.com/html/interurbans.html.

Never knew that SP's big electric interurbans served Oregon, let alone came into Portland Union Station. Thought the SP electrics were a SoCal kinda thing... looks like they didn't last much past 1929...


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Re: SP Big Electrics in Portland

Post by railohio » Wed Oct 22, 2008 2:50 pm

Not only, but the Oregon Electric had some big freight motors that later saw service in the Midwest on the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee.
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Re: SP Big Electrics in Portland

Post by westr » Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:09 pm

Many of the Red Electrics from Oregon actually went on to become Pacific Electric Red Cars in Southern California. A lot of the Red Electric track is still in service, mostly operated by Portland & Western. The Willamette Shore Trolley runs on the Red Electric line through the Elk Rock Tunnel.

railohio wrote:Not only, but the Oregon Electric had some big freight motors that later saw service in the Midwest on the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee.

There are pictures of them at http://davesrailpix.com/odds/or/or.htm

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Re: SP Big Electrics in Portland

Post by lbshelby » Wed Oct 22, 2008 10:15 pm

1912-1929, Otto.

They were a day late and a dollar short. By the time they opened the OE, which had been highly profitable in the decade prior, was in the red, and the Red Electrics were just latecomers. Sleek and slick but never made much money.

At one time SP had considered building a four track valley main, two steam and two electric.

You must remember how revolutionary electric propulsion was at the time. It was high tech, wave of the future, bleeding edge. An old gaurd steam road like the SP at first poo-pooed the notion that an interurban would cut into their bottom line. Then the OE shook their foundations and suddenly the interurban appeared to be the HSR of its day. There was a fear that is SP didn't electrify, they'd be left behind by those who had. In the end, however, everyone suffered, as macadamized roads and the model T cut into intercity rail travel dramatically throughout the pre-World War One era and into the 20s. Indeed in Oregon the decline often attributed to the Interstate highway system of the 1950s actually occurred in the 1920s with the Pacific Highway, the Columbia Gorge Highway (US30), and many other state highways all paid for with the nation's first gas tax.
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Re: SP Big Electrics in Portland

Post by wigwagfan » Sun Feb 08, 2009 3:16 am

There's actually an excellent book written about the Red Electrics but has been out of print for many years - "The Red Electrics - Southern Pacific's Oregon Interurban".

The system was built in response to the Oregon Electric - originally thought to be nothing more than another failed attempt to build in the Willamette Valley, it was soon discovered that James J. Hill was bankrolling it through his Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway (50/50 owned by GN and NP). Once Edward Harriman got wind of the arrangement, the SP was not to be outdone.

The equipment was similar to that used by the Pacific Electric but generally shorter in length; as the equipment was compatible most Red Electric equipment ended up on the PE after the Reds stopped running in 1929. Most cars were converted to baggage express. Two pieces of Red Electric equipment remain in existence at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum - a baggage motor, and a rider coach.

There are several Red Electric related structures still in existance to this day - substation structures in Lake Oswego (converted to an apartment), Dundee (in disrepair) and McCoy (in disrepair), stations in Forest Grove (converted to office), McMinnville (still in railroad use), and Corvallis (relocated, now a restaurant); four wig-wag signals (two on the Willamette Shores Trolley line, one former McMinnville wig-wag now at the Oregon Zoo and another at a railroad display in Toledo, near Newport), signal foundations along the WST stretch and on the P&W Tillamook District between Lake Oswego and Cook.

The long term intent was for the Red Electrics to become a valley-wide system, including a mainline that would parallel the "steam mainline" that exists today as Union Pacific's mainline. However, growth never came to be - the Red Electrics were down by 1929 with the OE just a few years later. SP ran steam passenger service or a motorcar on some segments for just a few years before it was all converted to bus service - if anything.

Today the Red Electrics are a mere memory for a few, and forgotten by most. Most of the railroad still exists, the Willamette Shores Trolley gives you a chance to ride a part of it (and the new WES line actually uses a line which was electrified for use by Red Electric trains, but in general was not used by revenue trains...however the Red Electric shop was located along this stretch). The City of Portland is developing a plan for a "Red Electric" trail near Hillsdale on the old right-of-way.
Erik Halstead - Portland, Oregon

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