Union Pacific Railroad occupies roughly 200 acres of prime real estate in North Portland at its Albina Yard facility. (
Proposal would move longtime N. Portland railyard, develop waterfront property
As Portland mulls thorny transportation questions – like replacing the Interstate Bridge, tolling sections of Interstates 5 and 205 or bringing passenger ferry service to the region – one man is suggesting a perhaps more ambitious project: move the railroad.
Mohamed Badreddine, a 28-year-old Portland native, has approached city leaders and Union Pacific Railroad in hopes of starting a discussion about moving the railroad away from its more than 200-acre waterfront property Albina Yard facility.
Mayor Ted Wheeler signed a letter of support Nov. 18, giving the far-reaching concept, which would open up an enormous swath of valuable riverfront real estate, a first inkling of legitimacy.
As ferry backers ask for the city and the region to study whether water transportation makes sense on the Willamette and Columbia rivers as the region braces to add 500,000 residents in the next 18 years, Badreddine said the railroad’s waterfront property presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“It makes a lot of sense for them,” he said of moving its maintenance facility out of the city’s center “for the city, for the people, I think this could be a deal that could really work.”
Badreddine, who goes by Moe, acknowledges he doesn’t have any experience in owning or developing land, but he claims to have tacit support from well-heeled developers who are interested in his idea. He’s registered his Portland Albina Rail Yard Relocation Project with the state’s business division and met with Mayor Ted Wheeler and railroad officials in recent weeks. He plans to meet with state transportation officials and Metro as well.
Badreddine said the total project would probably cost several billion dollars and take the better part of a decade to complete. “It’s going to take a lot of studying,” he said, “but we won’t be the same city [in a decade].
He envisions a combination of thousands of units of housing and potentially a commuter rail service or other transportation additions through the area. Badreddine said he doesn’t have firm designs, but he said the city needs to take a step toward evaluating the possibility. “Going after this is a big one,” he said of relocating or burying the railroad, something other cities such as New York have done. “It’s going to take a long time.”
“We must champion visionary ideas as Portland transforms into a global city,” the mayor wrote in a letter to Badreddine. Wheeler said he supports the vision to bury I-5 through the Central Eastside Industrial District as well, and he described Badreddine’s proposal as another example of a “a long-term vision,” while adding the city “must plan for the future.”
“Portlanders didn’t foresee current efforts for ferry service, or higher density downtown or the promise of the Gateway District ten or twenty years ago,” Wheeler said, “yet Portlanders grew those visions through community leaders.”
Kristen South, a Union Pacific spokeswoman, confirmed railroad officials had met with Badreddine. “Union Pacific is aware of the Albina Yard relocation concept and open to development-related discussions,” she said in an e-mail.
Stating the obvious, South said it is “difficult to relocate a rail yard, especially in an urban setting, due to many logistical, environmental and financial complexities.”
She described the North Portland facility, which sits broadly west of Greeley Avenue and south of Swan Island, as “critical” to the railroad’s operations in the Pacific Northwest. The railroad declined to confirm the size of its property. Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, which Union Pacific acquired, began purchasing land at the site in 1881, and Albina Yard’s distinctive brick smokestack was built in 1887.
South said Union Pacific assembles and sorts trains for departure to “destinations nationwide” at the Albina Yard.
Union Pacific has 1,073 miles of track in Oregon and 1,511 employees, according to 2017 figures. About 215,732 rail cars started their trips in the state, while 319,512 terminated their travels in Oregon.– Andrew Theen