The Woodburn-Springfield Branch of the Southern Pacific actually began service as a narrow gauge railroad operated by the Oregonian Railway Company, Ltd. (originally Oregon Railway Company, Ltd.) which began construction on the line in April, 1880 and by July of the following year, service had been extended from Ray's Landing (on the Willamette River) to Tallman, in Linn County. The line was extended south to Coburg by July 1882 and, although not directly realized, was envisioned to link up with the Central Pacific in Nevada.
After a period of financial strain and hardship, the line was purchased by the Southern Pacific in 1890 and was converted to standard gauge in the same year along with the abandonment of the section from Ray's Landing to Woodburn. The line was further extended south to Springfield the following year, terminating at Natron. The branch was connected with the Valley Main Line at Springfield in 1906 and the section from there to Natron was to become part of the Cascade Line twenty years later.
For many years, the branch offered both freight and passenger services, sometimes combined into a single train. However, in the 1930s, passenger service appeared to have begun fizzling out.
The abandonment of this branch has been conducted in a piecemeal fashion over several decades. Following Ray's Landing to Woodburn, the next section that was abandoned was between Balm and Tallman in 1907 (officially in 1910) due to the bridge across the South Santiam River and areas of track being washed out during a flood. The line was rebuilt along another route through Griggs, Brewster and Lebanon and completed by July 1910. Another section between West Stayton and Shelburn was abandoned in 1963. In 1976, with low traffic and extremely high repair and upgrade costs being cited, the section between Wilkins and Springfield was abandoned. Almost 10 years later in 1985 and for essentially the same reasons, the section between Tallman and Wilkins was abandoned with the last train running on the line in December of that year.
The pictures included on this page include the ROW from Springfield to Coburg . From my own personal recollection, the section of the branch from Wilkins to Springfield, although abandoned in 1976, was left in place and torn up a few years later in 1982, leaving only a small spur from the Cascade Line to a couple of blocks north of Main Street in Springfield (which in turn was removed a few years after that.)
A detailed history of this branch, along with a variety of pictures of the abandoned sections when they were operational, can be found in Ed Austin and Tom Dill's The Southern Pacific in Oregon, which I find to be an excellent book.
- Austin, Ed and Tom Dill. The Southern Pacific in Oregon, Edmonds, Washington : Pacific Fast Mail, 1987.
- Southern Pacific, Public Relations Office. Fact Sheet: Woodburn-Springfield Branch Line Abandonments, Portland, Oregon : Southern Pacific, 1976
- Melbo, Bob. Interview by Aaron R. Durland. Phone conversation (unrecorded) December, 2005, included information from Southern Pacific timetables of the Woodburn-Springfield Branch from 1924 to the 1950s.
- Interstate Commerce Commission. Decision, Docket No. AB-12 (Sub-No. 80), Southern Pacific Transportation Company-Abandonment-in Lane and Linn Counties, OR, Washington D.C. : ICC, 1985.
Thanks to Aaron Durland for contributing information about this route.