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Ongoing virus restrictions force the Oregon Rail Heritage Center to drop its upcoming holiday fundraiser.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Before the fundraiser was canceled, Santa practiced waving to Stella Pitt behind plexiglass in the cab of the Southern Pacific 4449 at the the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.Santa Claus won't be coming to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center this year after all.

The caretakers of Portland's three historic steam locomotives have canceled their upcoming holiday fundraiser because of ongoing state restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Volunteers have decorated the trains and inside of the center near OMSI as Santa's Enginehouse with lights, model railroads, special displays and more. But the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation canceled the socially-distanced tour scheduled for late December and early January after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown designated Multnomah County as at "extreme risk" for the spread of the virus and indicated the designation would likely last into the foreseeable future.

All museums and other indoor entertainment venues are ordered closed in such counties. They are allowed to open with limited attendance if designated "high risk," just one category lower.

"We are not confident that the Covid case numbers will come down in time and that Multnomah County will still be in the extreme category, which prohibits us for being open," said foundation spokeswoman Renee Devereux.

According to Devereux, the holiday decorations and displays will stay up so that visitors can enjoy them when the center eventually reopens. Santa's visits will not be rescheduled, however.

The Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation previously canceled the 2020 version of the Holiday Express, its largest annual fundraiser, because of COVID-19 concerns. To make any money, the locomotive-pulled round trips between its center near OMSI and Oaks Amusement Park would have been too crowded to be safe.

Weekend tours of Santa's Enginehouse were already postponed once after Brown imposed a four week "freeze" on business and social activities in Multnomah County effective Nov. 18. She replaced it with the "extreme risk" classification on Dec. 3.

The three historic steam locomotives housed at the center are: the Southern Pacific 4449, which was built in 1941; the Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700, which was built in 1938; and the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. 197, which was built in 1905. All are owned by the city but maintained and operated by volunteers.

The 19,000 square foot center opened in 2002 to provide for the preservation, operation and public enjoyment of Portland's historic locomotives, railroad equipment and artifacts, and to educate the public about the state's rich and diverse railroad history. It is ideally located for visitors to learn about rail history at 2250 S.E. Water Ave., adjacent to TriMet's OMSI/SE Water Avenue transit center, where MAX trains, Portland Streetcars and buses converge at the east end of the Tilikum Crossing. More information can be found at orhf.org.


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