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'Holiday Express' train excursions delight families


Portland's locomotive SP 4449 draws fans from all over; you get to ride its train every December

DAVID F. ASHTON - Whether its a daytime or evening excursion, the Holiday Express provides fascinating views along the Willamette River. Depending on atmospheric conditions, the steam whistle of Portland's Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive can be heard on December weekends for miles, as the powerful and historic train engine makes weekend excursions, pulling the "Holiday Express" passenger cars every December through Oaks Bottom.

"We're now on our 12th season offering the Holiday Express outings, sponsored by the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation," said this year's Volunteer Coordinator David Cautley, speaking at the "station" set up at Oaks Amusement Park beside the east bank of the Willamette River.

"The Holiday Express provides a unique experience for 'kids of all ages' – enjoying the thrill and unique experience of traveling on a steam-powered train, much as people did decades ago," Cautley told THE BEE.

DAVID F. ASHTON - Inside the comfortably-heated vintage rail cars, festooned with decorations and Holiday lights, passengers take their seats. Over the course of each trip, a small army of 300 volunteers staff the railroad ride that takes passengers, in Holiday-lit antique decorated cars, from Oaks Bottom to the Oregon Rail Heritage Museum near OMSI and back.

"This includes the train crew, customer service personnel, safety and parking positions, and those who staff our concession stand, where we sell memorabilia, T-shirts, booklets, and model trains," remarked Cautley. "And that's not counting Santa Claus and some of elves, who also ride the train."

These Holiday Express jaunts are a major fundraiser for the nonprofit Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, which in turn supports the working machine shop in the museum, where they maintain the locomotives and rolling stock, and fund other public activities.

After being dismantled for inspection and rebuilding, "America's Bicentennial Locomotive" – the iconic SP 4449 steam locomotive, now owned by the City of Portland – is again powering the train which takes 210 passengers on the roughly 50-minute round-trip journey.

Holiday Express excursions left on the hour from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, through December 18. They depart from the heated Oaks Station, at 7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way.

As another group was boarding, Cautley smiled and said, "The best part is when you're up there, seeing the faces of the little kids all lit up and aglow as they disembark from having this unique Holiday experience."