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Portland Streetcar (Light Rail Transit) –
Latest Extension Project To SW Gibbs
is incremental Step Towards Lake Oswego
Light Rail Now Production Team · May 2005

Currently, the Portland Streetcar is being extended in a southerly direction along the Willamette River shore toward the suburban community of Lake Oswego, where a terminus is ultimately planned. This extension – mostly on existing railway right-of-way (ROW) – will qualitatively change the streetcar system's function from a simple, slow circulator to a medium-speed semi-interurban service, resembling large-scale light rail transit (LRT). Thus, the Lake Oswego extension program appears to be the first actual de facto implementation of a Rapid Streetcar concept – the deployment of electric streetcar or tramway-type rail vehicles, not merely in street configurations for relatively slow circulator functions, but in alignments and operating practices typical of higher-level, interurban-type light rail vehicles, albeit with slower maximum speeds.

The expansion program appears to be under way in incremental stages. The most recent has been the extension to River Place (see Portland: Streetcar's first extension opens.)

Portland Streetcar – River Place Station

Portland Streetcar, River Place station

In this May 2005 photo, a streetcar leaves the River Place station – the most southerly station of the recently completed River Place extension. The car will turn right (southerly) at the next intersection (seen in background) and proceed perhaps 100 meters from there to a stub terminus where it will then reverse direction.
[Photo: L. Henry]

The railway ROW for the Lake Oswego line was originally established in 1885-1887 as the Portland and Willamette Valley Railroad, which began operation in July 1887. This line was later purchased by the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad. Originally narrow gauge, the railway alignment follows the west shore of the Willamette River south from the city, traversing a number of trestles, some of which were replaced by a tunnel alignment in 1921.

The line was electrified at 1500 VDC in 1914 and passenger traffic hit its peak in 1920, with SP running 64 "Red Electrics" to and from Portland and Oswego (now Lake Oswego) daily. Passenger service ended on 5 October 1929, while freight service continued until 1983.

In August of 1984, the interstate Commerce Commission granted the SP permission to abandon the line. In November of that year, the Portland Friends of the Willamette River Greenway, a non-profit corporation, was asked to assist seven government entities in their efforts to acquire the line, to guarantee the preservation of the right-of-way for future mass transit.

From September through December 1987, the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society operated a self-propelled rail vehicle (electric trolley pulling its own generator) on the line to determine the feasibility of such a service there. Negotiations between Southern Pacific and the various governmental entities continued until the six-mile line was purchased in the fall of 1988. Rail service (using the self-propelled trolley vehicle) began on an ongoing basis in July 1990, provided by another operator.

Subsequently, the line was extended from its original southern terminus, one-half mile south to downtown Lake Oswego. In 1995 the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society again became the operator of the self-propelled rail trolley service, providing a tourist-oriented trip through this scenic corridor, in cooperation with the Cities of Lake Oswego and Portland, Clackamas and Multnomah Counties and Metro (the Portland region's tri-county metropolitan planning agency).

Willamette Shore Trolley

Portland Streetcar, River Place station

In this August 2004 photo, a Willamette Shore Trolley car (pulling its electric power generator behind) rolls through the foliage-shrouded alignment near the Dunthorpe area north of Lake Oswego.
[Photo: Richard Eacker]

As the Portland Streetcar line is extended, the tourist rail service is gradually being displaced. The long-term extension of the line appears to be happening through the completion of shorter-term, piecemeal extension projects, of which the current project is an extension to SW Gibbs via connecting the street alignment onto the railway ROW.

The Portland Streetcar organization started construction on the Gibbs Extension in January 2005, with completion to SW Gibbs planned for the fall of 2005, and start of service in late 2006. This incremental 0.6-mile extension connects from the present River Place-area stub terminus at SW River Parkway and SW Moody, follows SW Moody south to SW Sheridan and from SW Sheridan to SW Gibbs utilizing the former Willamette Shore Trolley railway ROW.

Portland Streetcar – River Place Stub Terminus

Portland Streetcar, River Place stub terminus

This May 2005 photo shows the current stub terminus at River Place (about 200 meters or so past the final station-stop). Streetcars reverse direction here and proceed northbound through a spring switch back to the River Place station and northward. Behind the car can be seen orange barrels marking the construction toward Lake Oswego – in this case, the first stage (0.6 mile) to SW Gibbs.
[Photo: L. Henry]

Portland Streetcar – Street to Railway Right-of-Way

Portland Streetcar, street to railway

This photo shows the short section of extension in pavement slab extending southerly from the present terminus toward the railroad ROW which will be used for most of the route toward Lake Oswego (far background). The existing line meets this ROW, which has been in use by the Willamette Shore Trolley.
[Photo: L. Henry]

Portland Streetcar – Railway Right-of-Way Constrction

Portland Streetcar, rail ROW

In this photo, also taken in May 2005, the private ROW line is seen under construction, at the point where it meets the old railway ROW. As noted, this line will eventually be extended about 7 miles further on to Lake Oswego, although the first phase is the short extension to Gibbs. According to Portland Streetcar, Inc., all trackwork from SW River Parkway to Gibbs will be single-tracked construction. One additional stop will be located at SW Moody and Gibbs to connect with the Portland Aerial Tram (a suspended cableway) and to serve development projects already under construction in the area.
[Photo: L. Henry]

The Portland Streetcar website points out that the extension of streetcar service into the heart of the South Waterfront District is an integral part of the North Macadam Urban Renewal Plan adopted by Portland's City Council. According to Portland Streetcar,

The district has approximately 130 acres of land, most of which is either vacant or has strong redevelopment potential. Portland Streetcar is seen as a key catalyst to the development of housing, neighborhood retail and office space with plans calling for 10,000 new jobs and 3,000 housing units.

The Portland Streetcar website also underscores that the streetcar system "is seen as a key part of the South Waterfront development strategy", noting that "When the Gibbs extension is completed, the Portland Streetcar system will provide service from Northwest Portland and Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital through the Pearl District and West End of downtown to Portland State University continuing to RiverPlace and South Waterfront." The Portland Streetcar organization further emphasizes that "Extending the line to SW Gibbs is a high priority for the newly emerging South Waterfront 'River Blocks' development and the Oregon Health and Science University's designated Building One, a 16-story building, slated to contain outpatient practices, educational offices and research laboratories."

According to Portland Streetcar, Inc., the Gibbs extension is budgeted at US $15.8 million, including the purchase of three additional streetcars. That calculates to about $26 million per mile ($16 million/km).

Further information on the Portland Streetcar Gibbs Extension Project can be found at:
For additional information, contact Kay Dannen by phone at 503.478-6404.

Some information in this report has been adapted from material on the website of the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society and Portland Streetcar, Inc., and also information provided by Tom Matoff.

Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2005/05/28

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