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A 'historic' win for supporters of the Washington Park and Zoo Railway

The railway gets local approval for historical status. Now it's onto state and national committees.

A small victory for those wanting to bring back train rides through the forested hillside of Washington Park.

This week the Washington Park and Zoo Railway got one step closer to achieving a historic designation.

To some, the railway, built back in the 1950s, is a Portland institution.

For decades it took riders from the Oregon Zoo through the forested park.

And while a section of the track is still operational inside the zoo, the mile-long route through the park was shut down in 2013 due to some small landslides on the tracks.

The city of Portland now wants to replace the railway with pedestrian pathways.

For years, a local group has been pushing Metro, which manages the tracks, to rebuild and re-open them.

That same group is now pushing for the railway to be designated a historic landmark.

And just this week, it got the first of three approvals needed.

But even if it does get the historic designation, the railway won't necessarily be saved.

Dana Carstenson is president of Friends of Washington Park and Zoo Railway.

"It will make it harder for anyone who wants to get rid of it, it will make it easier for us to save it," he said. "But it is not a sure thing, but it is definitely a tool in our toolbox to protect it."

Metro could still remove the railway. It would just have to take some additional steps to do so. But first, the railway would have to get the designation.

"From our perspective, it doesn't really qualify under the criteria of the National Historic Preservation Act, but we'll work with the state and others to make the best of the situation," said Jim Middaugh, Communications Director for Metro.

A state committee will decide on the historical importance of the railway in mid-October, then it will be up to a national committee to decide if it deserves a place on the registry.

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