In 1987, the Portland Development Commission purchased the city’s Union Station and an adjacent disused freight yard from the Portland Terminal Railroad. PDC promptly renovated the historic 1896 head house, and developed a plan to redevelop the freight yard land as an attractive in-town apartment and business complex. To maximize developable land, it was planned to remove all but three of the then-existing seven tracks and their associated platforms.
Concerned that this cutback might hamper future use of the facility as a rail passenger station, the City of Portland’s Office of Transportation hired LTK Engineering Services to assess the opportunities for both improved intercity and regional commuter rail passenger train services, and to recommend, based thereon, how much track and platform capacity should be retained at Union Station. LTK conducted interviews with local, state, Amtrak, and freight railroad personnel to gain an understanding of existing and potential future train operations that might use the Union Station facility:
- Freight trains moving to and from freight yards in Northwest Portland
- Long-distance intercity passenger trains (Seattle-Los Angeles and Portland-Chicago routes)
- Northwest Corridor passenger trains linking Eugene, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, BC
- Commuter trains on one or more of nine rail corridors radiating out from Portland
- Local light rail transit (LRT) trains and/or streetcars
LTK’s report recognized that even with significant expansions, most service would be through-routed, stopping at or passing Union Station, then continuing on to another destination. It also became clear that neither LRT trains nor streetcars would need to enter the track side of Union Station. With this information, it was recommended that 1) three tracks would not be sufficient; but 2) five tracks would be adequate; and therefore, 3) two of the then-existing tracks and one platform could be retired to provide more land, in addition to the old freight yard, for constructing the new residential and business complex.
Since LTK’s report was written, freight and intercity train services have remained roughly constant; and the number of NW Corridor trains has trebled (from one to three daily trips in each direction). With the facilities available, there is still room for further substantial intercity and/or commuter rail growth.