Rail line bid delayed

A bid by Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition to wrest control of the rail line over the Siskiyou Mountains from Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad has been sidetracked.

Oregon's Surface Transportation Board said the petitioning group failed to show that CORP had not provided a required level of service on the line running between Black Butte, near Weed, Calif., north into Douglas County.

"We thought we had a slam dunk," said coalition spokesman Bob Ragon. "We thought we provided ample evidence that the service had dropped dramatically, and they would therefore allow us to take over operation of the line."

In its answer to the petition filed last August, CORP said it adequately pulled every rail car tendered by the petitioners.

The STB said the shippers did not establish the existence of a rail transportation emergency that created a substantial adverse effect. Although the STB acknowledged reduced service and some inadequacy, the shippers failed to establish "a substantial, measurable service deterioration exists that would justify an alternative service order."

When shippers balked at steep rate increases, CORP announced it would discontinue service over Siskiyou Summit. It hasn't run trains over an 85-mile stretch crossing the pass since May 6, 2008.

That decision forced Springfield-based Timber Products Co. and Roseburg Forest Products to rely on trucks between Northern California and their Southern Oregon plants.

The oversight board asked CORP to clarify its opposition to alternative rail service in light of the shipper's shift to trucking loads to Oregon.

STB also asked the railroad for a response to contentions that it failed to notify customers when it scaled-back rate increases.

"This is indeed a service issue, and our rebuttal will show that," Ragon said. "We have another operator (West Texas & Lubbock Railway Company) willing to provide service, but what we need is for RailAmerica (CORP's parent company) to get out of the way."

Ragon said part of what the shippers needed to explain was CORP's belief that manufacturing plants it served need daily service.

"What they don't understand is the physical location of those plants," Ragon said. "You can't modify spurs to handle traffic stored up three or four days."

The STB directed both sides to provide final statements and respond to questions by March 24. They will then have until April 3 to respond to the submitted statements. Ragon said the shippers would ask for an extension because their lead attorney is vacationing in Israel.

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