Washington Park and Zoo Railway

The Washington Park & Zoo Railway (WP&ZRy) is a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge[1] recreational railroad in Portland, Oregon's Washington Park with rolling stock built to 5/8 scale. Opened in three stages in 1958,[2] 1959 and 1960,[3] it provided transportation between the Oregon Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, International Rose Test Garden, and the World Forestry Center. The extended line was about 2 miles (3.2 km) long.[1] The service is currently operating on a 1-mile (1.6 km) loop within the zoo grounds. The railway carries about 350,000 passengers per year.[4]

Washington Park & Zoo Railway
Zooliner train - Washington Park & Zoo Railway, cropped.jpg
The Zooliner, shown arriving at Washington Park station, is one of the railway's two primary trains.
OwnerMetro (Oregon regional government)
LocalePortland, Oregon
RidershipApprox. 350,000 annually
OpenedJune 7, 1958 (1958-06-07)
Track gauge2 ft 6 in (762 mm)
Route map
Railway-osm-portland zoo railway z17 mapnik.png
The No. 1 Oregon in 2010. The steam train operates on a limited number of dates each year.

The railroad is operational year-round except in January and part of February, when it is closed for required maintenance. Special events occur during the winter holidays. As of 2018, the price of a ticket was $4.00 for the short 6 minute internal loop.,[4] but zoo admission was also required.

Zoo officials announced in September 2013 that the line would be closed for about one year for construction, with the last day of service scheduled to be September 22. The temporary closure was necessitated by the construction of the zoo's new Elephant Lands exhibit, which will also include remodeling of other parts of the zoo grounds.[5] The short-loop route through the southwest part of the zoo grounds was scheduled to be removed permanently, and during the one-year suspension of service a new section of track was to be laid to create a replacement for the short loop. Train operations returned running on the new Zoo Loop line only as of November 22, 2014.

In May 2018 an online petition was created in opposition to the Washington Park Master Plan's endorsement to remove the "long route", which runs from the Oregon Zoo to the International Test Rose Garden. The master plan primarily called for the removal of all tracks so that it could be replaced by a paved twelve foot (12') wide path.[6] As of May 2020, over 37,000 people have signed the online petition in support of keeping and repairing the, "long route".[7]


The Washington Park station (near the Rose Gardens), during its winter hibernation

Originally named the Portland Zoo Railway, the 1.2-mile (1.9 km)[8] first section of track opened on June 7, 1958,[2] more than a year before the zoo opened fully at the same site. This service used the Zooliner trainset, the railway's first and only train at that time,[2] and operated daily except Mondays through the summer.[9] Meanwhile, the zoo's new West Hills site was only open on weekends, because it was still under construction, and even by August penguins and bears were the only animals moved from the old zoo,[9] which remained in operation. The initial train service around the yet-unfinished new zoo grounds was suspended in mid-September 1958,[8][10] not to resume until the zoo's opening in July 1959. A fundraising campaign was launched, to raise money to build an extension – outside the zoo grounds – through the woods of Washington Park and also to build a steam locomotive.[11] It was decided to model the planned steam engine on a real one, a Baldwin 4-4-0 type, and construction began in the autumn, with plans to use it initially at the Oregon Centennial Exposition, scheduled to be held the following summer in North Portland (at the site of what is now the Portland Expo Center).[12] The steam engine was named "Oregon", or alternatively "the Oregon".

In the summer of 1959, the Portland Zoo Railway operated trains at two different sites.[13] Nos. 1 and 2, the Oregon and the Zooliner, served a temporary railway line through the grounds of the Centennial Exposition, which lasted for about three months. The Zooliner entered service on the exposition's opening day, June 10, along with a second train hauled by a utilitarian diesel switcher locomotive temporarily filling in until the new steam locomotive, No. 1, was ready. The steam locomotive entered service on June 20,[14][15] and it and the streamlined Zooliner proceeded to carry passengers daily at the exposition all summer.

Meanwhile, the railroad at the zoo's then-new site in the West Hills remained closed while construction continued on the zoo itself, but reopened on the latter's opening day, July 3, 1959 (by which time most animals had been moved from the old zoo).[16] For the next few months, the zoo line was served only by a train hauled by the locomotive that had been used during construction of that line.[14] That locomotive (later becoming No. 5) was a diesel engine made to look like a steam locomotive, and the train was called the Circus Train. The engine and its cars have been modified several times since and are currently known as the Oregon Express.[17]

When the Centennial Exposition ended (on September 17, 1959), the two trains used there were moved to the new zoo line, although the steam locomotive did not enter service at the zoo until January 1960.[18] The 1.4-mile (2.3 km) extension eastwards through the park to a new station near the Rose Gardens opened on May 28, 1960.[14][19] Like the two trains, the small Washington Park station building was also first used at the Centennial Exposition and was moved to the new line after the fair closed.[17]

The railway was renamed the Washington Park and Zoo Railway in 1978,[3] following the zoo's change of name (in 1976)[20] to Washington Park Zoo. When the zoo was renamed again in 1998, as the Oregon Zoo, the railway was not renamed.

The line also served the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry from 1958 to 1992 while that museum was located near the zoo.

A suspension of service forecast to last at least through summer 2014 was due to begin on September 23, 2013, to allow construction of a new elephant exhibit area and changes to the railway's route within and near the zoo grounds.[5] On November 22, 2014, operations resumed on the new Zoo Loop line.

The railway was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020.[21]


The steam train in scenery typical of the line, which runs through thick woods

The 35-40 minute round-trip Washington Park route runs on weekends from mid-April until Memorial Day and then daily through Labor Day. (However, service along this route has been suspended for an undetermined time, as repairs are needed on retaining walls along the track.)[22] This run goes through the woods of Washington Park and the grounds of the Oregon Zoo. (Few animals are seen from the train.) The Zoo station is near the zoo entrance (45°30′33″N 122°42′57″W / 45.509194°N 122.715778°W / 45.509194; -122.715778 (Zoo station)Coordinates: 45°30′33″N 122°42′57″W / 45.509194°N 122.715778°W / 45.509194; -122.715778 (Zoo station)). The Washington Park station is a short walk from the International Rose Test Garden (45°31′03″N 122°42′22″W / 45.517509°N 122.706189°W / 45.517509; -122.706189 (Rose Garden station)) and Portland Japanese Garden. The line includes a section of 4.5-percent grade.[23]

In the off-season, weather and business permitting, the 10-12 minute Zoo Loop trip runs. This run goes through the Oregon Zoo grounds only. The Washington Park trips that operate during spring and summer months also cover this section. The Zoo Loop is mostly a one-way loop, whereas the two-way 2-mile line through Washington Park is single-track but equipped with a few sidings to allow trains running in opposite directions to pass. This allows up to three trains to be in operation at once.[17]

Rolling stockEdit

As of 2010, Washington Park and Zoo Railway has three trains in normal operation: The Zooliner, 4-4-0 No. 1 Oregon (original steam train), and Oregon Express. Two of them (the Zooliner, and 4-4-0 No. 1, Oregon) are scale replicas of real trains. In addition, there are two small switcher locomotives that are used for non-passenger purposes.[17] Most regular service, including all non-holiday weekday service, uses only two diesel trains. The steam train operates on only a few weekends per year and for special events.[4] In the 1980s, two of the three trains were equipped with wheelchair lifts to allow mobility-impaired persons to board the train, and in 2005 these lifts were upgraded so as to better accommodate heavier electric wheelchairs.[24]

The ZoolinerEdit

The Zooliner is a 5/8-scale[25] replica of the diesel-powered Aerotrain, which is famous for its unusual shape that was influenced by automobile designs of the period when it was built, considered futuristic at the time. The Zooliner was built in 1958, its mechanical parts by Northwest Marine Iron Works[1][17] and its streamlined bodywork by the H. Hirschberger Sheet Metal company of Portland.[25] It first carried passengers in June 1958.[3] The Zooliner is powered by a 165 horsepower (123 kW) diesel engine with hydraulic transmission, which is WP&ZRy locomotive No. 2. The brakes are pneumatic, the same as on its full-size namesake. The train includes four or five streamlined passenger coaches pulled by matching locomotive No. 2. The rearmost car was rebuilt in late 2005 to resemble a dome car, in connection with installation of a larger and more powerful wheelchair lift.[24]

4-4-0 No. 1, OregonEdit

4-4-0 No. 1 Oregon is a 5/8-scale[26] replica of a classic American 4-4-0 steam locomotive of the 19th century. It was built in 1959 by the Oregon Locomotive Works.[1] It is a scale copy of the 4-4-0 locomotive, Reno, of Nevada's Virginia & Truckee Railroad (built by Baldwin Locomotive in 1872).[14] Unlike the original, No. 1 Oregon uses oil as a power source, but it is still a real steam locomotive (not a diesel that is made to look like a steam locomotive). It weighs about 8 tons.[26] It first carried passengers on June 20, 1959,[14][26] on the temporary Centennial Exposition line in North Portland, but was moved to the then-new Portland Zoo site around the end of the summer, when the exposition ended.[17]

The steam locomotive's original frame broke several times during its first two decades, but a new frame was built in 1982.[27] The Oregon was taken out of service in August 2002, in need of extensive other repairs, and was almost retired and relegated to static display, due to lack of funds to pay for the repairs.[17] However, donations resolved this problem, and the locomotive was overhauled and returned to service on April 2, 2004.[27] Nowadays, No. 1 is normally only scheduled to operate on a few busy weekends per year, including Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, but is also brought into use, as needed, to meet demand for train rides on weekends that have a particularly high number of visitors to the zoo. It is also normally used during the annual "Zoo Lights" event, held between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.[4]

Oregon ExpressEdit

The Oregon Express entering the zoo grounds from the woods of the park

The train now known as the Oregon Express is the only one that is not a copy of a real train. Its diesel locomotive is WP&ZRy No. 5.[17] It was built in 1959 by Northwest Marine Iron Works/H. Hirschberger[17] and originally was made to look like a steam train.[17] It was later rebuilt to a relatively more modern style, with a slanted front end. The color scheme and decorative motif of the train have been changed a few times, as has the train's name, which has gone from the Circus Train to the Orient Express to the Oregon Express.

Other locomotivesEdit

Locomotives 3 and 6 are small industrial diesel locomotives, not normally used for passenger service. They are used for track maintenance and switching,[17] but if needed can haul the passenger cars of the Oregon Express or Oregon trains as a substitute for those trains' regular locomotives (Nos. 5 and 1). Both were acquired secondhand from Weyerhaeuser. No. 3 resembles an early EMD switcher.[17]


The line carries U.S. mail[1] and was one of the first recreational railroads to have its own postmark, and is the last railroad in the United States to have continually offered hand-cancelling and processing of mail.[3] The postal cancellation stamp was issued to the railroad by the U.S. Postal Service in 1961.[17] The locomotive of the Zooliner has a postal mail slot on the side of the cab, and mail boxes are located at the Zoo and Washington Park stations.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Drury, George (ed.) (1995). Guide to Tourist Railroads and Railroad Museums, 4th Edition, p. 213. Waukesha (WI), US: Kalmbach. ISBN 0-89024-246-1.
  2. ^ a b c "Zoo Railway Carries 2,606". The Sunday Oregonian, June 8, 1958, p. 16.
  3. ^ a b c d "History of the railway". Washington Park and Zoo Railway. Oregon Zoo. Retrieved September 25, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b c d "Washington Park and Zoo Railway". Oregon Zoo. Archived from the original on August 27, 2012. Retrieved September 25, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b Oregonian staff (September 21, 2013). "Zoo train making last runs before remodeling". The Oregonian. p. B1.
  6. ^ goo.gl/vcdPm4
  7. ^ goo.gl/RNJbrM
  8. ^ a b "Zooliner Carries 106,000 Passengers, Earns $10,000 Net Profit in 90 Days". The Oregonian, September 21, 1958, p. 19.
  9. ^ a b "Russian Bears Inspect New Home at Zoo". The Oregonian, August 8, 1958, p. 26.
  10. ^ "Zoo Railway To Shut Down". The Oregonian, September 12, 1958, Section 3, p. 12.
  11. ^ "Group to Push $1 Shares in Zooliner To Extend Track, Add Steam Engine". The Sunday Oregonian, August 17, 1958, p. 21.
  12. ^ "Portland Zoo Railway Reveals Choice Of Steam Locomotive for Planned Train". The Sunday Oregonian, September 7, 1958, p. 31.
  13. ^ "Small Trains to Operate At Centennial, City Zoo". The Sunday Oregonian, May 3, 1959, p. 36.
  14. ^ a b c d e "History of the Oregon [locomotive No. 1]". Oregon Zoo. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved April 11, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "27,867 Pass Fair Turnstile". The Oregonian, June 22, 1959, p. 1.
  16. ^ Richards, Leverett G. (July 4, 1959). "Joy Reigns Supreme at West Hills Zoo As Wonders of New Park Are Unveiled". The Oregonian, p. 1.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Terry, Jeff (March 2006). "Trains at the Zoo — Part Two". Railfan & Railroad, pp. 9–11. Carstens Publications. ISSN 0163-7266.
  18. ^ "Zoo Engine Set for Haul". The Sunday Oregonian, January 3, 1960, p. 4.
  19. ^ "Park, Zoo Line Opens". The Oregonian, May 28, 1960, p. 7.
  20. ^ "About the Oregon Zoo". Oregon Zoo. Retrieved April 11, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  21. ^ "Weekly listing". National Park Service.
  22. ^ "Washington Park and Zoo Railway". Oregon Zoo. Retrieved September 9, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ Falk, Susan (October 23, 1985). "Among zoo's rail crew, Number One is just that". The Oregonian, p. E7.
  24. ^ a b Nkrumah, Wade (June 15, 2006). "Zoo volunteer works to improve train access". The Oregonian, p. B9.
  25. ^ a b Cathcart, Faith (June 13, 2008). "Fabulous at 50". The Oregonian. p. F1. Retrieved April 9, 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  26. ^ a b c Richards, Suzanne (June 22, 1989). "Zoo steam engine celebrates 30th". The Oregonian, p. MP1.
  27. ^ a b Haight, Abby (June 21, 2009). "Oregon No. 1 chugs through its golden anniversary party". The Sunday Oregonian. p. B3. Retrieved April 6, 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit