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Project: Historical Passenger Rail of Portland, Oregon

Passenger Rail of Portland, Oregon (1912, 1943, 2015)

Somewhat related to my previous post, here’s a new transit map of Portland for your perusal. This piece was born out of two things – a friendly after-work chat with the immensely talented Ryan Sullivan of Paste In Place, where we discussed a concept similar to this; and a chance discovery of a high-resolution scan of a 1943 streetcar/trolley map on the amazing Vintage Oregon site.

Based on that map, and information gleaned from too many other sources to mention, I have created a map that compares the passenger rail network of Portland from three different eras – 1912, 1943, and 2015, when the Portland-Milwaukie MAX line will be completed.

In this case, “passenger rail” is defined as streetcar (both old and modern), the once-plentiful interurban trains (a precursor to today’s light rail that once ran down the Willamette Valley as far as Eugene and Corvallis), MAX light rail and long-distance passenger trains (Amtrak and its precursors). Due to the somewhat incomplete nature of what my research uncovered, there may be a few little gaps and errors, but I believe what I show is a good representation of the services offered in each era.

Visually, the overlaid routes present a very compelling story. 1912 (white) was the heyday of Portland’s streetcar network and shows a dense, compact and comprehensive service for a city that covered a much smaller area than it does now. By 1943 (cyan), many of those routes had been supplanted by cheaper to run trolleys or buses. The automobile was gaining in popularity, and by 1958, the once ubiquitous streetcar had totally disappeared from Portland’s streets. Finally, the modern revival of Portland’s rail system is illustrated in the magenta overlay of 2015, which shows he new streetcar system, MAX light rail and today’s urban sprawl into once-distant suburbs – look at the vast distances the MAX lines cover compared to the compact streetcar routes of old. And I’m not even showing the whole extent, preferring to concentrate on Portland’s inner core so that downtown can still be made out.

Some other points of interest: two of the 1912 interurban routes through southwest Portland mirror the modern day I-5 and Barbur Boulevard almost exactly – rails have been firmly supplanted by road here. The Springwater Corridor which can plainly be seen swooping through southeast towards Gresham and beyond in 1912 and 1943 is now a popular bike path and part of the 40 Mile Loop, while other old rail corridors have been reused by modern-day MAX alignments. Also of note is the Council Crest route into the Southwest Hills. Now just a small city park with a view, up until 1929 Council Crest boasted an amazing amusement park and an observation tower!

As always, comments are welcome. I’d particularly like to know if anyone can see any obvious errors, as I’m almost certain I’ve missed some smaller parts of the early networks. Click here to see the map on Flickr, where you can view it super large!

Prints are available for purchase on Society6:

Large (28″ x 20″) – $34 + shipping X-Large (40″ x 28″) – $50 + shipping
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  1. Pingback: Project – Streetcars and Electric Railways in Portland, 1920 | Cameron Booth

  2. Pingback: TriMet Diaries Links of Interest (6-September-2011) | TriMet Diaries

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