Saturday, January 08, 2011

Sellwood Tracks and Bridges

Willamette Shore Trolley tracks beneath the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon

This convergence of tracks and bridged roads is at the west end of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland. The railroad, which runs along the west bank of the Willamette River, dates back to the 1887 narrow gauge line Portland & Willamette Valley. Most recently, it has hosted the historic cars of the Willamette Shore Trolley, although their website and ticket office in Lake Oswego ominously announce that the trolley is not currently operating, and give no definitive timeline for the resumption of services. In the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s, these tracks were part of the Southern Pacific's "Red Electric" operation that extended as far as Corvallis, an attempt to compete with the Oregon Electric's successful passenger service between Portland and Eugene. The rise of the automobile and the Great Depression ended passenger service on both lines. Freight service lasted here into the 1980s. History may yet repeat itself, as the line has been studied for potential streetcar or light rail service.

Streetcars also figure into the history of the Sellwood Bridge. The Sellwood is the only Willamette River crossing between the Ross Island Bridge at the southern end of downtown Portland and the I-205 bridge connecting West Linn and Oregon City, a distance of 11 miles. Since cracks were discovered in the bridge in 2004, its weight limit was reduced to 10 tons, preventing large trucks and buses from using it. Older bridges in downtown Portland, such as the Hawthorne, were built to handle heavy streetcars, allowing them to still carry the loads of today's vehicles. The newer Sellwood Bridge was not built to carry the heavy streetcars of the early 20th century, and today it faces an uncertain future.


Charles B said...

What is the other structure that runs parallel to the railroad tracks? An old pedestrian boardwalk? The supports beneath it seem insufficient for anything more than people and bicycles...

Scott Lothes said...

Believe it or not, that's the northbound lane of MacAdam Ave, Route 43.