In 1890, the Astoria and South Coast Railway linked Astoria to its growing neighbors to the south, including the coastal resort communities of Warrenton and Seaside.
By 1898, a local industrialist named A.B. Hammond had built 50 miles of track along the Columbia River connecting Astoria with the tiny town of Goble and, more importantly, the Northern Pacific Railroad. The Astoria & Columbia River Railroad thrived for years and caught the attention of railroad magnet Jim Hill, owner and builder of the Great Northern Railroad.
Hill bought the A&CRR in 1907 - along with Northern Pacific's tracks between Goble and Portland - so his company would have water-level access to the Pacific Ocean. Dubbed the Spokane, Portland & Seattle, the line followed the Noth bank of the Columbia River through the Cascade Gorge and then switched sides to the south shore of Vancouver for the final leg to Astoria. Hill built two large and fast steamships to provide trans-Pacific service from the West Coast. The steamers linked up with the SP&S railroad at Flavel (near present-day Warrenton) just a few miles west of Astoria. Brochures from the old SP&S run bragged about the scenery along the line, including views of Mount St. Helens, solid rock tunnels and the wide sandy beaches around Seaside. Portland families often escaped the Willamette Valley in the summer by moving, frequently by train, to the coast. Another regular feature on the line were the so-called "Daddy Trains," which shuttled working fathers back and forth on the weekends between Portland and the coast.
For generations the railroad played an important role, delivering people and goods between Astoria and Portland - and beyond. But freight and passenger service dried up in the last few decades under economic strains. In 1997 a 91.77-mile stretch of railroad between Portland and Tongue Point (MP 96.97) was purchased by Portland & Western Railroad. The final 5.04 miles between Tongue Point and Astoria were subsequently acquired by the City of Astoria. Although freight is handled nearly daily along the line from Portland to Wauna, the last 25 miles has seen little activity and is now used to store surplus cars. The exception was from 2003-2005 when the Lewis & Clark Explorer, consisting of 3 RDCs, was operated between Portland and Astoria. A landslide near Brownsmead and a washout at Knappa has closed the rail line but plans are afoot to reopen the railroad.
Through its work, the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association is hoping that the joy of trains and railroading will be remembered and celebrated by all who come to Astoria looking at the history of those who made this place such an important and cherished American city.
Learn about the history of the Astoria Railroad.