A Portland facility that first entered the train-making business in 1919 on rails next to the Willamette River is poised to shut down in a few months. These days, the 78-acre site also builds barges.
The Lake Oswego-based Greenbrier companies, which acquired the Gunderson facility in 1985, told Oregon officials of the move in a filing made public Wednesday. The company plans to close the Gunderson facility on Northwest Front Avenue, with layoffs starting as soon as March 23.
Greenbrier Senior Vice President Jack Isselmann told OPB that at first, the number of workers affected will be “single digits.” But by late March, as mentioned in the state filing, the company could lay off as many as 101 workers.
The notice points to a “slowdown in business” as the reason for shutting down operations at the Gunderson facility. Isselmann said the closure decision was also related to the acquisition in 2019 of two train-car plants in Arkansas.
While rail operations will cease at the Gunderson facility, the future of the site isn’t clear. Isselmann said shipbuilding operations are continuing.
“We have customer commitments to deliver on into early 2024 at a minimum,” Isselmann said. But he said it “remains an open question” whether those orders, and any future marine business, will be filled by Greenbrier or a “successor” at the site.
In addition, Greenbrier’s engineering and sourcing functions that currently take place at the Gunderson site will continue. But it’s not clear where those engineers and other employees will work after rail operations stop.
Isselmann said Greenbrier has been having “meaningful conversations” about what might happen to the site in the future. The company could sell or lease the property, but Isselmann said they won’t open the door to a “competitor that makes rail cars.”
In other words, the days of making train cars along the Willamette will likely end in a few months, when the last Gunderson cars roll out.