Ore. delegation working to get Siskiyou rail line

ROSEBURG — Members of Oregon's congressional delegation continue to support a shippers' proposal to restore rail service along the Siskiyou Line despite a competing plan from a public California agency.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio said they will continue to encourage the federal Surface Transportation Board to grant a request by Roseburg Forest Products and Timber Products Co. of Yreka, Calif., to have West Texas and Lubbock Railway operate the 218-mile Siskiyou Summit line between Dillard and Black Butte, Calif.

"We're supporting the shippers in their application," DeFazio said. "These other people have not filed any of the necessary paperwork to have standing before the board, so the board, at this point, would not entertain, would not even read their letter."

The shipper's request came after Roseburg-based Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, which leases the line from Union Pacific, curtailed southbound service between Ashland and Weed and cut northbound service from five days a week to two.

The Siskiyou Regional Railroad Authority last month filed a letter asking the STB to defer ruling on the shippers' request. The authority, formed by the cities of Weed and Montague, is working to buy an 80-mile section of the line from the Union Pacific Railroad, including about 14 miles of track on the Oregon side of the border to Ashland.

Earlier this month, John Hammond, president of Siskiyou Regional Railroad Authority, said his group's proposal would benefit the shippers and would also allow for the establishment of passenger service and tourist excursion trains over the Siskiyou Mountains.

The group has been negotiating with an unnamed short line operator to provide freight service on the line.

"Obviously, we want to work with anyone interested in having service restored on this line, but fragmenting it would not be helpful," DeFazio said.

The Siskiyou Regional Railroad Authority has applied for a $13.4 million grant from the ConnectOregon III program operated by the Oregon Department of Transportation for infrastructure improvements. The grant, which would require $3.3 million in matching funds, would be used to buy the line and provide for six months of operational costs.

DeFazio said he was skeptical of the group's chances of winning a grant.

"ConnectOregon is not going to give a grant of money to these cities in California to establish a new fragment of a line when we need a complete line from California to Oregon," he said.

Wyden agreed.

"Why in the world would Oregonians want to put tax dollars into something like this for 14 miles of track? It kind of defies common sense," Wyden said. "Our shippers have been trying to come up with a proposal that we though both long-term and short-term made sense. I continue to feel that way and we're going to push for it."

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