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North Plains Rail Line: Then and Now

History and Promise

Around 1908, when Jim Hill’s United Railways announced plans to expand the rail line to help grow the population in the area, the Ruth Trust Company of Portland bought a large tract of land in the North Plains area. A few years later, the rail line - including the Cornelius Pass tunnel - was built and then operated as a Portland short line that ran from Portland to Banks, and eventually connected to the Oregon Coast.

The Ruth Trust Company platted what would eventually become the town of North Plains around 1910. Residents and businesses began leaving the low-lying “Glencoe” area south of today’s North Plains and moved to the newly platted town higher up near the railroad tracks. Some existing buildings were even moved. Passenger and freight trains stopped in North Plains up to four times each day at a railroad station along the current Main Street. Freight leaving North Plains included fruits, vegetables, animals, and logs.

While the advertising promise of the Ruth Trust Company positioned North Plains as a “necessity and its future is guaranteed” because of the rail line to convey both goods and people, that did not come to fruition. Soon roads began to replace railroads for most travel and freight transport.

Today’s Rails

After a few ownership changes over the years, Portland & Western Railroad (PNWR) now owns the rail line, and the ground under it is owned by the State of Oregon and managed by the State Department of Transportation. While it is not heavily used, trains come through a few weekdays each week carrying freight from local industries. The City of North Plains does not control when trains may run through town, and the sounding of a locomotive horn is governed by Federal Railroad Administration rules.

While some of the rail line and adjacent unused rail property within North Plains have been suggested for various community uses, at the current time this is not being considered. The rail line presents PNWR with current and future business opportunities, and it connects with PNWR’s 520-mile regional system of rail lines in western Oregon with freight capacity and connections across the country. There are also future spur line opportunities for businesses along the North Plains corridor.

North Plains was a railroad town, presenting new opportunities for this area. As with many places across the country, the rail line is part of North Plains’ interesting and promising history, present, and future. What will the next opportunity be for this rail line?