written by Bronte Dod
As train use for shipping goods has waned, organizations around the country have converted historic trains and railroads into sources of local tourism. Scenic train rides offer the romance and nostalgia of train travel, giving passengers Oregon views that can’t be seen any other way.
Mount Hood Scenic Railroad
photo by Michael Peterson
Mt. Hood Railroad was built in 1906. An important lifeline for the region, it stretched from Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge to the base of Mt. Hood, importing resources and exporting produce grown in the Hood River Valley.
Today, while the railroad does host a handful of freight trains—carrying the same resources and produce in an and out of the region—it has become a source of tourism. The rails now carry 50,000 people each year through a region that grows some of the best fruit in the country.
“Mt. Hood Railroad gives passengers a scenic tour of the Hood River Valley that they cannot get by car, returning to a time when rail travel was the only way to go,” said Sarah Munley, the marketing director of the Premier Rail Collection, which owns seven scenic railroads around the country.
Pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive, the train travels along a twenty-two mile track, beginning in Hood River and ending at the base of Mt. Hood in Parkdale. Along the way, the ride showcases views of vineyards, orchards and farms for which the Hood River Valley is known.
New in 2016 is the Pullman Table, an updated menu of food prepared on the train that is available during the dinner train. The fresh, farm-to-table menu features Pacific Northwest cuisine, including Columbia River salmon and Hood River coffee-crusted pork tenderloin.
Along the way, passengers witness a reenactment of a Western train robbery. During the holiday season, trains transform into the Polar Express, complete with golden tickets and dancing chefs serving hot chocolate and cookies.
Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad
photo by Martin Hansen
The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad offers forty-six miles of unparalleled views along Oregon’s coastline. Since 2003, it has been owned by a nonprofit organization and operated entirely by volunteers.
Like many lines in Oregon, this railroad was originally built to transport timber cut from the coast, the tracks laid strategically—attempting to dodge landslides and other elements produced by the coast’s stormy weather.
The organization has had a small collection of historic engines restored, and is planning to restore more. In addition, the volunteers are restoring the historic depots along the journey.
Departing from Garibaldi, the three-hour journey takes riders along the shores of the Tillamook Bay and through the forest of the Nehalem canyon. The line operates in the summer months and has special events throughout the year.
Along the way, the dinner train has a four-course meal of Pacific Northwest cuisine to enjoy, as well as a gift shop in the caboose of the train.
Sumpter Valley Railroad
photo by J.B. Bane
In 1971, a group of volunteers started to rebuild the Sumpter Valley Railroad, which had gone unused for twenty-four years. The narrow railroad was originally used for transporting lumber into the Baker City area from the Sumpter Valley. In 1933, after losing business to the growing automobile transportation industry, the railroad was abandoned.
By 1976, the volunteers had restored close to one mile of the railroad, having to completely rebuild the tracks since the original tracks were no longer able to support any trains. On July 4, 1976, the volunteers opened the one-mile of track for tourism.
Volunteers were also able to restore a steam engine built in 1915 to use along the tracks, and continued building tracks and restoring vintage railroad cars and engines for the intervening twenty years, completing about five miles of tracks between McEwan and Sumpter.
In 1987, the railroad was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places. The train operates today in the summer months, taking passengers on a historic train ride through the Sumpter Valley. In the winter, the train operates a Polar Express ride.