The Albany & Eastern Railroad Company (AERC) has a long history in the Mid-Willamette Valley. The AERC operates the Mill City Branch line, which runs from Mill City to Page, OR and then, via trackage rights over the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), to Albany, OR. The Mill City line was built in part by the California and Oregon Pacific railroads in the early 1880’s. The Willamette Valley Railroad leased this line from the Southern Pacific and started service in March of 1993. In 1998, the AERC leased the Sweet Home Branch from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). This line connected with the existing Albany-Lebanon-Mill City line at Lebanon and continued southeasterly to Sweet Home. Since the 1930s BNSF and its predecessors used trackage rights between Lebanon and Albany, and was a steam powered branch off of the otherwise electrified Oregon Electric Railway.
At the same time BNSF leased its “Oregon Electric” line from Salem to Eugene to the Portland and Western Railroad. Shortly after taking over the Sweet Home Branch, the former owners split the railroad into two properties—the Willamette Valley Railway which consisted of the former West Stayton Branch, and the AERC consisting of the former Mill City and Sweet Home Branches. In September of 2007 the AERC was purchased by Rick and Bernice Franklin, local Lebanon, OR business owners, keeping the short line’s history of local ownership intact. Today, the AERC owns and operates the Sweet Home Branch line and continues to lease the Mill City Branch line from the UPRR. Our freight operation runs six days a week, and in 2016 we moved over 8,000 carloads of freight. Our excursion trains run over the 17+ miles of track on the Sweet Home Branch line. Our excursion train is unlike any other in the Valley, or even the west coast for that matter. While on board you will see amazing stretches of farmland, forest ranges and the beautiful Santiam River while rolling past our shipper’s sites and seeing the railroad world in action. The round trip lasts approximately two hours. Be sure to bring some cash so that you can enjoy some local beer, wine and cocktails.