OTOL Pacific Northwest RailFest 2010 LITE
July 18-23, 2010
Photos by Lynn Hammond, Eric Minton, Jishnu Mukerji, and John Corbett.
Chapter 0: Introduction
In the summer of 2010, our big July event took place in the Pacific Northwest. We visited three cities: Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. The trip was chosen for 2010 because in the previous couple of years, several new transit lines went into service in all three cities.
Chapter 1: Preparation
As usual this Fest was planned well in advance, going back a few years with the details to become clearer as the new routes came online. With the help of Seattle's Mark Blitzer over the past few years, things fell into place very nicely for that city as we planned not only the transit rides but also where we would have most of our meals. Portland and Vancouver, while I didn't have any contacts in those cities, were easy to plan as well as their transit systems run frequently and on schedule.
Originally the PNW Fest was going to encompass coast to coast travel on Amtrak, as our West Coast trips have in the past. The intent was to travel west on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland, and return from Seattle; we would thus get both branches of the train. In between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, we would ride the Amtrak Cascades.
However, during the winter when some went to make their sleeper reservations for the Empire Builder, they found that the Portland section had already sold out. We also found that the Seattle section, while available westbound, was extremely expensive. Heavy bookings had already pushed our desired trips into the higher price buckets. We found the same to be true for our eastbound journey, although things were still available at that time. These conditions sent most of us scrambling to consider alternate means of getting to and from the Pacific Northwest. I was even going to swallow my pride and fly there and back, just to be able to preserve the Fest as planned within the region. The Fest got the name Pacific Northwest RailFest 2010 LITE as it then became everyone's individual responsibility to get themselves there and back by whatever means they chose.
Then much to our delight it was discovered that those sold out sleepers on the westbound Portland section of the Empire Builder suddenly freed up. Many of us grabbed what we could right away, and the transcontinental rail travel was on again. However, I decided that since the prices in both directions remained prohibitive for some of us, and realistically it would be cheaper to fly, the LITE name remained. We ended up having a total of nine people together on all or part of the originally scheduled westbound Empire Builder trip, and six people involved with the intended eastbound trip. In addition, we also had some people who used Amtrak's Coast Starlight in one or both directions between California and the Pacific Northwest. Our means of travel between the East Coast and Chicago also varied greatly. Therefore reports of our rail journeys will be done separately.
What remains is the PNW RailFest 2010 LITE, which covers the time following our arrival in Portland on Sunday, July 18th until our second arrival in Seattle on Friday night, July 23rd after returning from Vancouver. In addition, I'll add Saturday, July 17th to cover the arrival of some folks into Portland, and Saturday, July 24th to recount time spent between the end of the PNW LITE portion of the Fest and the last departures from Seattle.
Chapter 2: Saturday, July 17, 2010
John Corbett flew across the country, and arrived in Portland on Saturday, the day before our Fest began. Also arriving that afternoon was Rick Metcalf, who had taken a longer all-rail routing across the country from Massachusetts. Eric Minton (in the middle of a move from Hawaii to Nevada) came up from California, along with Evan Ibarra (his granddaughter). The latter three arrived on the Coast Starlight, which they reported to be a little early into Portland.
Chapter 3: Sunday, July 18, 2010
Today, those Portland participants who hadn't arrived the night before got there on the Empire Builder. In the afternoon, we rode the Portland Streetcar, and then met with one disappointment which we replaced with something we thought we wouldn't have time to ride.
Chapter 3.0: Getting there
The nine people arriving Sunday morning on the Empire Builder were Chris Wyatt, Bill Magee, Alan Burden, Grace Burden, Lynn and Mike Hammond, Piotr Dzwonek, Steve Weagant, and me. Our train arrived in town at 10:20 AM, just ten minutes late. John was on hand to see our train arrive and briefly greet us.
Those who arrived on the Empire Builder immediately split up and went to our respective hotels to check-in or at least have our luggage stored until we could. The understanding was that everyone would have lunch on our own as well. My hotel was near the airport, but I had thought it was closer to another light rail station than it was. The long trip plus the long walk ate up all available time, and I had no time to get any lunch before our scheduled meet time before our first official transit ride. I called ahead, and Steve took care of me by running into a Subway shop and getting me a sandwich. When I finally arrived at the meeting location, I first inhaled the food and then said hello to everyone.
Chapter 3.1: Portland Streetcar, Central Library to NW 23rd & Marshall
The first official conveyance of our Fest was the Portland Streetcar. Our group of 13 boarded at Central Library, which is essentially the main northbound downtown stop. The route runs primarily on 10th Avenue northbound and 11th Avenue southbound through the downtown area, and connects with both the east-west and north-south TriMet MAX light rail lines. Our northbound trip took us through the city's Pearl District, and then it turned west on NW Northrup Street into the Northwest Portland neighborhood. It turns south at NW 23rd Avenue, stopping briefly at Marshall Street to serve the Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital. It then turns east on NW Lovejoy Street to begin its trip towards the south end of the line. There is no need to detrain at this end of the line as the streetcar follows the loop continuously.
The streetcars are modern, complete with automated stop announcements. However we noticed that all stops are sponsored by local businesses. The announcements include the name of each stop's sponsor, a practice that became annoying after a while.
Chapter 3.2: Portland Streetcar, NW 23rd & Marshall to SW Moody & Gibbs
We remained on board through downtown. The streetcar line passes through the Portland State University (PSU) district, and then into RiverPlace. Through RiverPlace there are some short single track sections. But since the system is well timed, we never had any issues with meets. Once it passes through RiverPlace, the next and final part of the city the streetcar traverses is the South Waterfront. Here it runs southbound on SW Moody Avenue and northbound on SW Bond Avenue. Right where the line splits at SW Gibbs Street was our first destination (Moody & Gibbs). We alighted here in order to access the Portland Aerial Tram.
Chapter 3.3: Portland Aerial Tram
Here was the first of several non-rail activities our group would encounter during our time in the Pacific Northwest. The "rail" justification for taking any high altitude ride, or going up in a building's observation deck, is to be able to have an aerial view of the railroad tracks in the area. There is only one other such aerial tram in the United States. It's located across the country in New York City, where the Roosevelt Island Tramway runs between Manhattan and Roosevelt Islands.
The Portland system's lower station in the South Waterfront district is where all fares are sold. One purchases a round trip ticket from the vending machines just outside the station. Upon boarding at either station, the lone operator checks all passengers' tickets.
Our ride up lasted just three minutes. We were able to see, from the top of the ride, how the tracks lead into Portland Union Station. The upper station sits on the main campus of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), in a neighborhood called Marquam Hill. We chose not to walk around the campus while we were up there; in fact most of us did not leave the tram. The ride down in the same vehicle also took three minutes. The big thrill of the entire ride is where the cabin shakes as it passes the one tower (located closer to the station in South Waterfront).
Because we had purchased our fares quicker than expected and also did not linger at the far end, we found ourselves almost 20 minutes ahead of our itinerary when we left the ride at the bottom. We then walked back to the Portland Streetcar station at Moody & Gibbs to await the next southbound car.
Chapter 3.4: Portland Streetcar, SW Moody & Gibbs to SW Lowell & Bond
The Streetcar ride continues along SW Moody Avenue past an urban park and housing projects under construction. The remainder of the trip was just three minutes. The track turns east onto SW Lowell Street, and the car comes to a stop along Lowell, halfway between Moody and Bond Avenues. We got off here and walked one block further south on Moody Avenue to Bancroft Street. Moody ends at Bancroft; just south of that intersection lays the track that is used by the Willamette Shore Trolley. The trolley's track used to come farther north before redevelopment of the South Waterfront began. Moody Avenue and its streetcar track replaced the trolley track between here and the RiverPlace district.
Chapter 3.5: Willamette Shore Trolley
The Willamette Shore Trolley was our only disappointment of the week. When we got to the Bancroft Street station, we saw a handwritten note on a pole stating that the trolley was not running, and to call a phone number for more information. The phone call yielded a recorded message repeating the bad news the sign had already delivered. I left my name and number, and the owner called me back later in the week to inform me that there had been a fire in a traction motor, thus rendering their only vehicle inoperable. To replace this activity, it was decided that we would ride the Portland Vintage Trolley.
Chapter 3.6: Portland Streetcar, SW Lowell & Bond to PSU Urban Center
Back we went onto the Portland Streetcar in order to get to the Vintage Trolley downtown. There is no layover at this station, so the streetcars just discharge, load, and go as they do at the other end of the line. From the station along SW Lowell Street, the track turns northward to run along SW Bond Avenue. At SW Bond Avenue & Whitaker Street is a station called OHSU Commons. This is located within half a block of the Portland Aerial Tram station. The streetcars do layover here for about ten minutes. The layover is done at this location most likely because it is closer to the single track area through RiverPlace.
After the layover we continued up through RiverPlace and into the PSU area. The main stop in this direction is mid-block between SW 5th & SW 6th Avenues right on the PSU campus, called PSU Urban Center. Almost all of us got off there and walked back to SW 5th Avenue & Mill Street to await the Vintage Trolley. Bill Magee officially left the group by remaining on the streetcar so he could explore more of the city and have a seafood dinner downtown.Continued in next section