Amtrak no longer leads the way in this national celebration, but Southeast Portland has stepped up

DAVID F. ASHTON - As Portland Train Day 2017 opens at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, crowds of visitors come check out the city's historic locomotives and other exhibits. "Portland Train Day 2017" organizers said they were worried about attendance, because of all the other major events also scheduled this year for the same late-spring date. But, as it turned out, the volunteers at the front gate of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center had nothing to be concerned about: They counted some 1,000 visitors – just in the first hour.

The daylong observance was launched by Amtrak in 2008 as a way to promote railway travel, and preserve railroad history in a celebration on the Saturday closest to May 10 – the anniversary of the installation of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

Although Amtrak stopped hosting Train Day two years ago, the volunteer rail enthusiasts of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) in Southeast Portland have kept it going with a local "Rail Day", now in its second year.

Many families wisely took the TriMet MAX Orange Light Rail to get there, while others searched for a parking spaces in the ORHC lot near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. That lot is under the Oregon Highway 99E viaduct, and parking was in short supply that day.

"These locomotives and railcars are part of Portland's rich and storied railroad history," remarked ORHF President Doyle McCormick, also an engineer of the massive "Bicentennial Locomotive", Southern Pacific 4449.

"In the early years of Portland's development, rail was the only major transportation in and out of here, other than going by river," McCormick reflected. "Portland Rail Day is an opportunity for people to come and learn about the railroads that served, and continue to serve, our city."

In the museum's front yard that day, the famous SP 4449 locomotive was steamed up, attracting the attention of people from miles around. "She's alive and well, having just gone through an intensive 2½ year boiler rebuild; we're looking forward to getting her out and 'stretching her legs' later this year," smiled McCormick.

In addition to looking over the three City-of-Portland-owned locomotives, guests took in exhibits presented by model railroad clubs, learned about the nearby Brooklyn Rail Yard, took rides on three-rider "speeders", and dined in a new food cart area at the museum.

With thousands of visitors coming for the day, it's clear that Portland's rail history is still of major interest.

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