Travelers along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway in 2013 will have the opportunity to once again experience the fun of riding a train on a section of the historic Joseph Branch rail line. Operators of the Eagle Cap Excursion Train, which operates out of Elgin, Oregon, 20 miles north of La Grande on the Highway 82 section of the byway, are in the process of planning excursions along the highly scenic Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers and will announce the schedule in February.
This season, the train will operate out of a brand new depot in Elgin. The depot was completed in fall, 2012, and was built in the style of the historic depot that once sat in the same location. Indoor seating, a ticket counter and displays on the history of the Joseph Branch will be available when the excursion season begins. The Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) governs operation of the railroad, which is jointly owned by Union and Wallowa Counties. The 63 miles of track, historically known as the century-old Joseph Branch, was rescued from salvage in 2003, when the governments of the two counties stepped in to preserve the vital piece of transportation infrastructure. Since that time, WURA has operated an excursion train and limited freight business on the line, with help from the non-profit support group, the Friends of the Joseph Branch. From spring, 2009 to fall 2011, the railroad leased the Wallowa County portion of the track to Union Pacific for storage of out of service lumber cars through the height of the recession. Revenue from the lease paid off the Counties’ debt on the railroad and put them in a position to run an excursion train on the line. Diesel engines continue to power three passenger cars and an auxiliary car that contains the generator and a gift shop.
Keep an eye on the Internet for a new website early in 2013. Get the latest news and make reservations for the train by calling Alegre Travel, 1.800.323.7330.