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Lewis & Clark Explorer Train

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Rail-travel enthusiasts are invited to park their RVs for a day and take advantage of the
final, historic season of the Lewis & Clark Explorer Train. The train, based in
Portland, Oregon, gives them the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing and highly scenic ride
over rails last used for passenger service in 1952. The ride is named for the fact that its
route parallels the last leg of the Lewis & Clark expedition down the Columbia River
from Portland to Astoria and the Pacific Ocean. Although the line roughly follows U.S. 30,
the ride provides views not seen by those on the highway, and at a relaxed pace that only a
rail trip can provide. The train is operated under the auspices of the Oregon Department of
Transportation (ODOT) using cooperative trackage rights over the line controlled by the
Portland & Western Railroad, a regional short line. Tickets are purchased through
Amtrak or local travel agents. Full fare round-trip fares for 2005 are $70, while one-way
is $35. Senior, child and group rates had not been determined as of press time. Although
the equipment does look a bit like traditional passenger dome cars, they’re actually
1956-vintage self-propelled Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDC) that include large picture windows,
spacious luggage racks, reclining seats and a lot more legroom than any airline coach or
bus seat. A wheelchair lift and Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible restroom make it
possible for anyone to enjoy the ride. The ride is quiet and smooth, and the equipment is
in top condition. Riders are able to board the train at the Linnton Amtrak station off U.S.
30, just a few miles northwest from Portland. They also have the option of making the
connection via a free Tri-Met shuttle bus that departs from Union Station and meets the
train at Linnton. RV parking is available at both locations, although larger RVs would find
maneuvering through Portland’s downtown streets a bit of a chore, to say the least. Better
to opt for the Linnton departure point and speak to the attendant on duty regarding the
best spot to park your rig. Rail fans who arrive early may enjoy photographing the P&W
ex-Southern Pacific (SP) classic SD-9 parked nearby in an original, albeit well-faded and
weathered, SP Bloody nose paint scheme. Westbound departures to Astoria leave Linnton at
7:50 a.m. and arrive at Astoria at 11:30 a.m., and the Eastbound train leaves Astoria at
4:45 pm and arrives at Linnton at 8:50 pm. Trains are scheduled to operate Friday,
Saturday, Sunday and Monday from June 3 through October 3, 2005. Riders are handed a train
journal after boarding. The 32-page booklet explains the line’s history and details the
points of interest along the ride. The Spokane, Portland & Seattle railroad abandoned
passenger service on this line in 1952, but freight service has continued to this day.
Reduced branch-line freight-only maintenance standards call for relatively low track speed.
Although the train ambles along, it’s fast enough to reach its destination in jig time, but
slow enough that passengers don’t miss any sights along the way. These include dynamic
views of the Columbia River and its environs, small fishing communities and wildlife
ranging from birds to aquatic mammals. Riders don’t go hungry on board. Snacks and drinks
are available en route and are reasonably priced, with breakfast fare in the morning and
dinner on the return trip. Riders use the dinner menu to make selections on the way to
Astoria in the morning, and their meal choices are served on the way back to Portland.
Dinner selections for past seasons, prepared by Silver Salmon restaurant in Astoria,
included a Lox plate; Shrimp Lewis & Clark; a hot Dungeness crab, shrimp and artichoke
dip; or northwest chowder on the “light meals” menu, and Portabella and mushroom lasagna or
smoked salmon Nuberg on the full entree list. We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience
on the train. The roughly five-hour layover in Astoria provides plenty of time to enjoy a
walking tour of the city’s historic waterfront and downtown area, which is just a stone’s
throw from the station. A waterfront trolley with a $2 daily fare boards near the station
and follows a 4-mile route that can save some shoe leather when heading for various local
destinations. Numerous eating facilities, museums and other shopping-type attractions make
it really easy to kill those five hours. The Astoria region also offers tours of Fort
Clatsop, where the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery expedition spent the winter of
1804-05; the Astor column; and other historic sites. Shuttle-bus service is available near
the Explorer station to provide fast and easy access to the spots beyond walking distance
from the train, and details are available from train personnel. Another option is to take
the train up one day, spend a night or two while exploring the Astoria region and return on
a later train. Given the number of points of interest in Astoria, occupying that much time
there shouldn’t be a problem. A comfortable ride that’s not too long, good food, gorgeous
northwest scenery and an attractive and historic destination add up to a train ride that’s
well worth considering. The Lewis & Clark Explorer is yet another reason to visit
Oregon as part of your Corps of Discovery bicentennial activities.

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