All aboard! Last chance to ride zoo train until 2014

September 20, 2013 - 12:38pm

Oregon Zoo train rides will be discounted to $1.25 on Sept. 21-22

The Washington Park and Zoo Railway will be making its last runs until 2014 this weekend, and zoo visitors are invited to ride the train for just $1.25 (discounted from the standard $5 train fare) on Sept. 21-22.

"We thought making the fare $1.25 would be fitting as a reminder of both the zoo's 125th anniversary this year and the $125 million zoo bond measure voters passed in 2008," said Kim Smith, zoo director. "It's a nod to both how far we've come and how much further we plan to go — and a thank you to our community for supporting the many improvements taking place here."

"We are creating a new train experience with a greater focus on animals."

—Heidi Rahn, Better Zoo program director

Starting Sept. 23, the zoo railway will be temporarily out of service, as construction crews begin laying track for a new train route — one designed to provide unique views of animals as well as improved looks at ZooLights, the annual winter lights display. Construction managers expect the trains to be out of service for the next year — including during ZooLights 2013 and summer 2014 — but anticipate they will be running on the new route for ZooLights 2014.

"We've planned construction very carefully to minimize the impact on visitors," said Heidi Rahn, director of the Better Zoo Program, which oversees construction projects funded by the 2008 zoo bond. "We knew we would have to take the trains out of service for a while as we built the new route, but we've kept the schedule tight and we expect to complete the new track in just over one year."

The zoo began a major transformation this year, breaking ground on both Condors of the Columbia and the new Elephant Lands habitat. Because of the scale of construction funded by the bond (nearly 40 percent of the zoo campus will be remodeled), projects have been carefully sequenced. An important first step in Elephant Lands was the creation of a new service road that will keep construction traffic and heavy equipment off visitor pathways.

"Rerouting the train was necessary to provide space for the new service road and the significantly larger elephant habitat," Rahn said. "But it was challenging because of the zoo property's many constraints."

The zoo's 30-inch-gauge railway line evolved out of plans for a children's train when the zoo moved to its current site in the late 1950s. The brightly painted Oregon steamer — reminiscent of 1800s locomotives — and the sleek, retro-modern Zooliner date from that time. Both were featured during Oregon's 1959 centennial celebration.

"Over the years, as new zoo exhibits were developed, views from the train were given limited consideration," Rahn said. "Now we are creating a new train experience with a greater focus on animals."

The new route through the zoo will circle an elevated trestle in the forest north of Elephant Lands, providing unique views of the Asian elephant herd in its new home. The longer Washington Park train route, which operates seasonally, will also return once construction is complete.