Willamette Shore trolley's ready to roll
The Willamette Shore Trolley will make its return this weekend for the start of the summer operating season, taking riders on a scenic riverfront journey from Lake Oswego to Portland's South Waterfront and back.
The trolley made a triumphant return last summer after several years of limited runs caused by the temporary removal of a section of track during construction of the new Sellwood Bridge. From 2014 to 2017, the trolley had to turn around at Powers Marine Park just south of the bridge.
The restored track segment under the bridge reconnected the line and added a passing track so that two trolleys could run simultaneously on the single-track route. The line is operated by volunteers from the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society, and communications manager David Harold says crews have spent the past winter following up on those upgrades with a series of repairs and enhancements to other parts of the track.
"It was just normal maintenance that goes on," he says. "You check the line and see what needs to be done and try to do it in the off times — they wanted to do it last summer, but we asked if they could wait until the fall."
Contractor West Rail brought in specialized machinery between February and May to replace rail ties along the line. According to Harold, quite a few were worn out after several years of reduced operations; more than 400 were replaced in total.
"We normally do ties by hand," Harold says, "dig them out put a new one in and re-nail it. But when there's a bunch of them, it's more efficient and a lot less work (to use equipment)."
The biggest upgrade was at the intersection where the line crosses Riverwood Road in the Dunthorpe neighborhood, which used to be a bumpy transition where the road asphalt was shaped around the rails.
The track through the upgraded intersection has been completely rebuilt with new ties and ballast rocks, and has been embedded inside steel and concrete road panels similar to what would be found on a main road crossing.
One feature of the intersection remains: the vintage traffic signal light and bell, which is among the oldest of its kind still in operation.
"The line's been re-inspected by ODOT and everything's fine," Harold says.
While OERHS and contractors were working on the track, the City of Portland also started a project to clean up Powers Marine Park and repair some of the culverts near the track after years of construction on the Sellwood Bridge nearby.
OERHS volunteers have also been working to bring the line's second trolley up to operational status. The two vintage trolleys, numbered 513 and 514, are replicas of a model series that once ran through downtown Portland. They were acquired from TriMet in 2013 after the agency discontinued its own vintage trolley service.
Trolley 514 was the Willamette Shore Line's primary operating vehicle for the next few years while volunteers worked to refurbish and restore 513. The cars also need generators to supply the electrical power that the streetcars used to pull from overhead wires, and OERHS initially only had one.
"The second trolley is actually running now," Harold says. "We put it in play with our old generator."
The group acquired a surplus generator from the State of Oregon last year, Harold says, and they've already adapted it to provide the required 650-volt DC output to power the trolley's motors. The only remaining step now is to mount it on a cart that can be coupled to the trolley, and Harold says the group hopes to have both trolleys running this year — if not by July, then definitely by Christmas, he says.
In the meantime, regular runs for the summer season will begin using a single trolley on May 26. The trolley will make two runs per day on weekends until July, then four runs per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from July 7 to Sept. 3.
For the full schedule, visit www.wst.oregontrolley.com.