June 22, 2013
Yesterday was a very big day for the Oregon Coast Scenic railroad. Let us explain why.
In these modern times there are many powerful political groups that look upon in active or little used railroads in scenic areas as only useful for conversion to bike-ways and pathways. Many railroads have been forever lost to this growing "Rails-To-Trails" movement.
With the former SP Tillamook Branch in the scenic Northwest tip of Oregon's Coastal Mountain range becoming inactive in 2007 following devastating winter storms, most folks thought that the line would ultimately fall to abandonment. With the instant cessation of all freight service on the line following the storm damage, their became interest in exploring in the next few years in exploring the scenic line for conversion to a trail system.
Not so fast there. Before during and after the 2007 storms, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, headed by President Scott Wickert was still plying the rails each year with Tourist trains pulled by vintage steam locomotives on the Tillamook to Wheeler end of the line. This attraction continued to grow in popularity each year, and Scott decided that the line had even more potential than simply trips up and down the Coast.
Over the next couple of years we were able to work with the Port of Tillamook Bay, who owns the Tillamook Branch and we negotiated a long term agreement to operate and maintain the Line all way from Tillamook to Enright, a distance of some 48 miles.
Our crews began in earnest in 2011 clearing the line of vegetation and the slides that had occurred since the line was shut down in 2007. Finally, as we have reported here previously, we ran our first train up into the Salmonberry River Canyon in March of this year.
While we were doing this work to re-open the line, there was formed The Salmonberry Coalition, which is a political group made up of various factions of governmental, civic and other private groups who still wish to explore creating a trail system along this line. As the Coalition was clearly exploring uses that might impact OCSR's current and future expansion plans, we joined the Coalition so we could share the views of OCSR.
A couple of months ago, we decided to take matters into our own hands and invite all the Coalition members along with State and Local governmental agency representatives on a special train up the Salmonberry to show them first hand what OCSR had accomplished so far and to demonstrate the advantages of using rail to transport people into this remote and scenic region.
Over 100 people RSVP'd to our invitation, including re[representatives from the Governor's office, legislative representatives, County Commissioners, Local City Mayors and their staffs and Cycle Oregon and other interested parties. Many of these people had never been in the canyon as this was a freight only rail operation for the last70+ years.
We loaded all the various representatives on board at Wheeler at 10:00 and set off for the canyon. We had historians on board to explain the history of the line and the region it traverses as well as OCSR staff to answer any question about our operations and future plans. McCloud #25 was in charge of the train which included nearly all the OCSR passenger equipment currently in service.
After the 2 hour run to the current end of track was stopped the train on the Salmonberry bridge that spans the confluence of the Nehalem and Salmonberry Rivers. It was here that we served lunch and made a formal presentation by OCSR to the gathered representatives. We were able now to explain to them first hand what amazing access for all ranges of public members can be afforded by rail service such as they just experienced. We also shared our plans to push on and open the line up to Enright in the next 2 years and after that our goal to continue on until we reach the summit at Cochran. We also explained how we make every effort to maintain walkways and room for pathways wherever possible as we do the work needed to re-open this rail line.
Following our remarks the train departed Salmonberry for the return run to Wheeler. On the way back, the Coalition held a meeting in one of the passenger cars to discuss what they had just experienced and how the Coalition now intends to move forward in cooperation with OCSR and our re-opening of access to this scenic part of Oregon.
Time will tell how these groups will work together in this common goal of bringing people access to the Salmanberry River Canyon. By hosting this trip with all the various groups on board, OCSR has been able to show first hand what can be done with dedicated volunteers and plenty of vision vision.