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December 1st, 2013

The sound of the train

It's approaching Christmas, so my part of SE Portland is getting treated to a special train whistle. Portland has the Holiday Express -- thank you, Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation! -- where a vintage train and engine run along a vintage rail line near the Willamette River. The route runs through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, starting at Oaks Park Amusement Park and passing trees, marshes, eagle's nests, and the parallel paved path that's the Springwater Corridor, this stretch of which opened about 10 years ago. Bicycles and feet are the usual human ways to go through there now, but why not bring back the train, much like decades ago? Because trains are neat.

And, as I said, the trains add to my neighborhood's sound. I don't hear the cars from the major thoroughfare McLaughlin Boulevard that also runs near here -- it's a big road, but one that was going to made even larger as part of the far-too-large freeway plan that was proposed for Portland in the 1950s and Sixties, until that plan was mostly killed -- but I do hear trains. Of course, that's usually because of the Brooklyn Rail Yard, on the other side of my neighborhood from where Springwater is.

When I moved into this apartment in August 2002, I didn't immediately get the lay of the land beyond the most obvious -- which bus routes got me to work downtown, which grocery stores were nearby, all that. And because big sounds will reverberate and echo, I'd hear the Brooklyn Rail Yard's trains -- the freight trains, the Amtrak trains -- and wonder where the sound was coming from. I imagined it coming from the west, not the east. I was almost always wrong, because trains almost never run through the Springwater Corridor. Until the end of the year.

I've watched the Holiday Express; I've yet to ride it. I went down to Oaks Park on a bright, cold day in December 2006 for a well-bundled hike, giant hardcover library copy of Stephen King's Lisey's Story in hand, and watched the train fill up and pull out, full of happy people.

Whatever romance comes from the sound of a train is likely to get lessened when you hear it a lot, as I have in this spot, I think the closest I've ever lived to train tracks in my life...but hearing this special train on its special trips, from five to as many as nine round trips a day, reminds me of why the train whistle is a special sound.

I want to ride a train. You should want to, too.