U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., reacted angrily to a railroad company's suggestion that taxpayer dollars be used to help reopen a short line railroad that runs from Eugene to the Oregon coast.
The Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad closed the line in September for safety reasons. The action has hampered at least four major employers on the south coast that rely on the line to move lumber, wood chips and hunks of steel.
At a gathering Wednesday of politicians and industry officials in Eugene, the company, whose parent &
was bought earlier this year by a Boca Raton, Fla., hedge fund, estimated that $23 million in repairs are needed to reopen the line, and it wants four other public and private entities share in the cost.
DeFazio said the plan was outrageous, summing it up as "a group of super-rich hedge fund managers who are trying to extort the Port of Coos Bay and the people of Oregon for a few million, which to them (the hedge fund mangers) is chump change."
Railroad company officials want a five-way partnership, with each stakeholder chipping in $4.66 million. It also wants $10 million in state subsidies over five years to defray the $1.5 million annually that the railroad says it loses on the line.
The partners suggested by the company include itself, the Union Pacific railroad, the state Department of Transportation, the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay and the companies who ship their goods on the short line.
DeFazio said a better option is to force the company to sell the line. With the company's assertion that the line loses $1.5 million per year, "we could make them pay us to take it," DeFazio said, or seize the line through eminent domain.
"These people clearly are not interested in providing a critical public service," DeFazio said. "I don't care how rich they are, how powerful they are. We can beat them."
An option discussed earlier was to fight the shutdown itself, by challenging whether conditions are truly unsafe enough to warrant closure. But a Federal Railways Administration report, to be released Thursday, shows that the tunnels really are in bad shape, DeFazio said.
RailAmerica's vice president for its Western region, Bob Jones, apologized Wednesday for the 24 hours notice the company gave shippers and government entities before it applied to shut the line down.
"We didn't do a very good job of bringing people up to speed," Jones said at the meeting. He said the company had been concerned about safety in the tunnels for much of the past year, but decided in September, after the mine collapse in Utah and the bridge collapse in Minnesota, that the situation on the short line was critical.
"Early in my career, I had three industrial fatalities I had to report to families. You don't ever want to have to do that," Jones said.
Asked why the company doesn't just sell a rail line that loses $1.5 million annually, he said: "We don't just want to give up on it."
Information from: The Register-Guard, http:www.registerguard.com
DeFazio pans plan for reopening short line