This is part two of our trip Saturday June 26th (wrong date given in part 1) from Seattle to Portland via Amtrak and using Trimet to explore the city. As a reminder, this was the weekend of record breaking temperatures in the Pacific Northwest which had serious consequences for rail travel.
Our primary destination was the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Many transit options from Union Station to ORHC exist, but the most straightforward was to use the MAX Orange line. We could see the MAX trains from Union Station and walked over to NW 6th Avenue. Having been forewarned of the large number of street campers, we weren’t shocked but amazed at how they had taken over the city. The first stop we came to, the ticket vending machine wasn’t working. We walked over to 5th and bought HOP day passes with my credit card for $5; and not a tent in sight.
I have to give Portland transit an A rating. Not an A+ because some of the signage and info on their transit maps is not clear unless you know the system. Like, what does this green square mean on the MAX “Orange Line” train we’re boarding. The colors and direction arrows are also really hard to read on the TriMET map and they have streetcars and MAX lines that use the same colors. It wasn’t yet noon, but already hot and muggy, so the air conditioning on MAX was most welcome. The Green Line train we were on ended at Portland State University. After a short wait we boarded a train with a little orange square and were treated to a ride across the Willamette River on the transit-only Tilikum Crossing Bridge, where we noted we could catch a streetcar for our return trip.
Walking up to ORHC we found it was closed! While the website said it was open, another look at the Facebook page showed it was closed due to excessive heat. Ugh, looks like the whole trip is a bust. But just as we throw in the towel and start walking back to the MAX line, an apparent rail fan stops in their car and asks if we are trying to get in? “Yes, but they are closed”… “I’ll let you in, meet me by the gate.” Huh, what? Turns out he’s a volunteer coming down to do some work.
We and several other lucky people got a private showing of this very cool place. Not only are there two operational steam locomotives and rolling stock, but also some in depth historical exhibits that cover Oregon history from a railroad perspective. I didn’t know that the Pullman Company ran its own passenger trains that provided upscale service over what was offered by the railroads. I also wasn’t aware of the inherent racism involved and that Oregon was a Jim Crow State. After looking at everything, even stuff we weren’t supposed to if the Heritage Center was “officially” open, we had lunch at Mt. Hood Brewing Co. seated in a vintage railcar. Mission Accomplished!
Our next adventure was to take the streetcar back to the Aerial Tram that serves Oregon Health Science University. This was a fail, only open to students and staff because of COVID. We did learn that the TriMET day pass will not transfer to the tram so it’s not really “public” transit.
Back across the river to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Submarine tours, with very limited admission because of Covid, were sold out; . I bought tickets to “the rest” but had 90 minutes to kill (more COVID restrictions). Seeking the streetcar into the Pearl District, I found the reader board saying lines are down due to a power outage. Did I mention the high temp for the day was 108? Fortunately the issue didn’t affect the Orange Line. At least the air conditioning on MAX was able to keep up with the heat, unlike the streetcars.
We got off at Pioneer Place to found nothing but boarded up windows, random street people, and a concert venue that in normal times may have been rockin’, but empty today. Much like the rest of the Pearl District! I’d heard much about how Seattle “lost its soul” and Portland retained so much historic character. There are some cool buildings but it’s mostly new construction; housing, Apple Stores and Starbucks. Honestly Seattle’s Pioneer Square has more historic old buildings than the Pearl District and Tacoma wins in this category by a wide margin, probably because Tacoma never had the huge upscale development pressure seen in the other cities.
We walked down to the river to see if the Oregon Maritime Museum was open; it wasn’t, thanks to Covid. After a 20 minute wait for MAX with no real time info available, a train finally showed up. I was a concerned that because of transit we’d missed the time stamp on our tickets to OMSI. Turns out they didn’t even look. I was expecting something like the Museum of History and Industry on Lake Union but was disappointed to discover it was essentially a children’s museum.
We had more time before we needed to be back at Union Station for our scheduled 7:30PM Cascades departure. We walked up to Powell’s Books, which was busy, but partially closed, including the Pearl section that contains all the engineering and technical books we were most interested in seeing. Since there was a bus stop across the street, we decided to experience that mode of transit back to the Transit Mall. After waiting 20 minutes for a bus that claimed to be 15 minute frequency, we gave up and walked down to the streetcar stop. After another long wait we gave up and walked back to Union Station arriving with 30 minutes to spare and the departure screens reading “on time”. Next up, the Amtrak meltdown.