By Midge Pierce

Imagine inner Eastside without those infuriating mile-long trains stopping you in your uh, tracks. A pipedream?

Not according to a 20-something with a railyard redevelopment vision and the gumption to pitch to power a long shot idea about moving trains and tracks out of Portland’s midriff.

After waiting 45 minutes for freight to pass one evening, Mo Badreddine was fed up. He contacted Union Pacific and dialogue began. That initial call led to ongoing, high level operations discussions and growing community support for relocating both the Albina railyard in North Portland and the Brooklyn yard in Southeast.

Turns out rail relocation isn’t outlandish. Freight lines running through busy parts of the City cause more than bottlenecks. For residents, they are safety, environmental and development obstructions. For UP, they are a poor business model.

While decision-making could take years, Union Pacific has agreed to explore the issue, providing community stakeholders fund a feasibility study which may start this month. Badreddine, turning accounting studies into corporate action, knows, “You can’t have a rational discussion about relocation without considering costs.”

Donation pledges are underway for the $25K study. The funds are a drop in the bucket for the railroad, but show community commitment and potential for a public-private partnership to apply for federal dollars.

So far, SE Uplift has promised a 50% match on donations. Pledges have also come from Neighborhood Associations close to railyards including Reed and Brooklyn. As SEUL rep Leah Fisher explains, “Relocation is a wild and crazy idea that may come to fruition,”  albeit years hence.

Badreddine says other cities have successfully relocated railyards and trenched their trains. He cites the Reno Track Trench and other projects in the works in western states including California, Texas and Utah.

Business practicalities drive UP’s decisions about moving tracks underground or to less populous areas where trains can run at higher speeds with more freight car stacks and fewer dangers.

Badreddine has garnered support from the mayor, neighborhoods in North and Southeast Portland and his mentor Homer Williams who has turned formerly contaminated river-adjacent land into vibrant communities like the South Waterfront.

While concerns may arise about pushing pollution and traffic problems elsewhere, Badreddine counters that cleanup and brownfield reclamation can lead to jobs, housing and economic rejuvenation.  “This could be a win – win for the City, for commuters and for the Railroad.”

For more information: https://www.albinarailrelocation.org/