‘Holiday Express’ train excursions delight families

Check out this fun, annual East Portland December activity, and book your ride before it sells out for the season …

Departing from “Oaks Station”, another group of passengers are about to embark on a journey through time aboard the Portland’s own Holiday Express.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Depending on atmospheric conditions, the steam whistle of Portland’s Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive can be heard on December weekends well into outer East Portland, as the powerful and historic train engine makes weekend excursions, pulling the “Holiday Express” passenger cars this season.

“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, at the “station” set up at Oaks Amusement Park beside the east bank of the Willamette River.

-2 Volunteer Coordinator David Cautley and son Alex Cautley help riders have a delightfully unique hour aboard the Holiday Express.

“The Holiday Express provides a unique experience for ‘kids of all ages’ – enjoying the thrill and unique experience of traveling by a steam-powered train, much as people did decades ago,” Cautley told East Portland News.

Over the course of the event, a small army of 300 volunteers come to staff the railroad ride that takes passengers, in Holiday-lit decorated cars, from Oaks Bottom to the Oregon Rail Heritage Museum near OMSI and back.

Before it departs, passengers admire the powerful locomotive that will take them on their journey.

Inside the comfortably-heated vintage rail cars, festooned with decorations and Holiday lights, passengers take their seats.

“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.

On this nighttime Holiday Express run, the gaily-decorated SP 4449 locomotive “steams up” as it pulls out of the station.

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 pulling powering the train that takes 210 passengers on the roughly 50-minute round-trip journey.

Holiday Express excursions leave on the hour from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on December 3 and 4, December 7 and 11, and again on December 17 and 18. They leave from the heated Oaks Station, at 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, 97202.

Whether taking a daytime or evening excursion, Holiday Express provide fascinating views along the Willamette River.

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.”

Find out more, and get ticketing information from their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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