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Making a connection

Work has started on a new connecting track that will make the operation of the Portland & Western Railroad’s freight trains moving between Banks and North Plains more efficient.

On Nov. 11, contractors with heavy earth-moving equipment began carving out the path of the new roadbed, which cuts across a farmer’s wheat field.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Heavy equipment is being used to build a new roadbed for the Portland & Western Railroad at this site off Wilkesboro Road near Banks. The project is expected to be completed in December.

The line is being built in Wilkesboro, a rural community just south of Banks.

According to Bob Melbo, a rail planner for the Oregon Department of Transportation, the $3.1 million project will “significantly improve the functional utility of Portland & Western’s connection between the Astoria Line and the bulk of the P&W’s system in the Willamette Valley.”

The new track, which is approximately two-thirds of a mile in length, will reduce transit times for trains moving on the railroad’s route between Portland and Albany by an hour or more. The change will also eliminate the need for through trains to go into Banks before continuing north or south.

As part of the project, a railroad crossing with gates and flashing lights will be placed near the intersection of Northwest Wilkesboro Road and Northwest Mountaindale Road, where the rails will cross the roadway.

Most of the cost — $2.4 million — was paid for through a ConnectOregon grant, a statewide program that provides funds for transportation infrastructure improvement projects other than highways as a way to promote economic development in the state.

While the track construction project is relatively small, it represents a milestone in Washington County history. According to Melbo, not counting light rail transit routes, the Wilkesboro project is the first new rail construction in the county in 30 years. In 1983, Burlington Northern Railroad built about a mile of new track in the Beaverton area after construction of a TriMet MAX line forced BN to vacate some of its trackage to make way for MAX trains.

Before 1983, Melbo believes the last railroad construction in the county was in 1922, when the Portland, Astoria & Pacific Railroad built a line from Wilkesboro to Vernonia and Keasey via Banks, Manning and Buxton.

“It’s kind of ironic, in a way, that this new 2013 construction is at Wilkesboro too,” said Melbo.

The tracks between Banks and Vernonia were abandoned in the early 1970s, and the former railroad corridor was eventually used to create the popular Banks-Vernonia State Trail.

According to David Anzur, director of marketing and sales for the Salem-based Portland & Western, most of the work on the new connection is expected to be completed before the end of December, with the line becoming operational sometime in January.

Anzur said railroad officials and other dignitaries are expected to be on hand when the line opens to traffic for the first time.

“We will have a ceremony,” Anzur said.



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