Zoo marks six decades of railroad fun on June 9 as its popular Zooliner turns 60
The Oregon Zoo is inviting visitors to ride the rails for 60 cents on Saturday, June 9, as its original train — the sleek, retro-modern Zooliner — turns 60 years old.
The zoo's Saturday celebration will also include train experts from National Railway Historical Society, a model railroad courtesy of the Beaverton Modular Railroad Club, photos of the Zooliner throughout the years, and a chance to get mail hand-canceled with the Washington Park and Zoo Railway stamp.
The event is free with zoo admission and rides are 60 cents all day. Visitors should arrive before 3 p.m. to see the model railroad and meet the train historians.
Train enthusiasts can also purchase a special VIP experience ($40 or $35 for zoo members), which includes zoo admission, free parking, unlimited train rides, a roundhouse tour, a chance to ride in the Zooliner cab, hand-car rides and a swag bag with a copy of the stock certificate from 1958.
One of three trains in the zoo's current railway fleet, the Zooliner was the first to begin service, with rides starting in June 1958, a year before the zoo moved to its current location in Washington Park. When the zoo officially opened at its new site however, the Zooliner wasn't there yet — it had been moved to North Portland as part of Oregon's 1959 centennial celebration.
The Zooliner is a scale replica of General Motors' futuristic Aerotrain, which debuted in the mid-1950s. Its name is a nod to the Viewliner, a similar Aerotrain replica that was one of Disneyland's main attractions during 1957 and '58.
Although the original Aerotrain was built for speed — designed to travel at more than 100 mph — the similarly streamlined Zooliner pokes along at about a tenth of that, offering leisurely views of Portland's famous pachyderms on a new route looping around an elevated trestle in the forest north of Elephant Lands.
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 route within the zoo was updated in 2014 as part of a monumental, decade-long renovation at the zoo that is carefully phasing in all the projects funded by the 2008 community-supported zoo bond measure. Rerouting the train was necessary to provide space for a service road and the expansive Elephant Lands habitat.
A longer train route through Washington Park, which operated seasonally through the summer of 2013, has been offline since it was discovered retaining walls and support structures along the railway were at the end of their life spans, and significant geotechnical work would be needed to safely run the trains there.
The City of Portland's recently developed Washington Park master plan is looking at options for renovating that train corridor — including a possible combined path for both the train and a multi-use trail. No funding has been identified for this work, which it is estimated would cost several million dollars.
As part of the Metro family, the Oregon Zoo helps make greater Portland a great place to call home. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor's checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects focused on saving animals from extinction include studies on polar bears, orangutans and cheetahs.