The first passenger train in the Willamette VAlley of Oregon appeared on Christmas Eve, 1869, but by the 1950s local railroad passenger service had virtually disappeared.
Now, in 1980, the State of Oregon, Amtrak, and the Southern PAcific RAilroad have brought back daily rail passenger service between Oregon's principal cities of Portland, Salem, and Eugene.
At a cost of more than $3.5 million the new daily "Willamette Valley Express" train service will seek to determine by June 30, 1981, whether the public wants and will use fast and efficient rail service instead of driving.
The start of the new passenger service Aug. 3 culminated three years of intensive study initiated in the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1977 "to test the feasibility of added rail passenger service in the Willamette Valley through actual operation" and "to determine the need for long-term investment in rail passenger service."
The new trains are being operated by the Southern Pacific. The locomotives and coaches are brand-new Amtrak equipment. At present, two trains run north from Eugene and two south from Portland each day. Should demand require it, additional equipment will be added. To boost attractiveness and convenience of the new service, there are three intermediate stops, in addition to the cities mentioned.
On the day before regular passenger service was begun, Oregon's Gov. Vic Atiyeh led a party of state and railroad officials, newspapermen, and guests who rode the train from Portland to Eugene, a trip that woke echoes of those long-ago days when the first trains crept west across plains and mountains to cheers at every station. That's exactly what happened when the new train of 1980 moved down the valley, and this time auto horns joined in the welcome at every crossroad.
If those who welcomed the train now ride it, it should be a success.