$7 million grant to help open Siskiyou Line

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Siskiyou Rail Line between Medford and Weed, Calif., which has been closed since 2008 because of needed repairs.

A $7.09 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation has been approved to repair and reopen the line. The grant was announced Tuesday by U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield.

Reopening the line is expected to boost the Southern Oregon economy, and the funding is expected to be available in a couple of months, officials said.

The grant has the backing of the transportation departments in Oregon and California, as well as Southern Oregon counties, Siskiyou County in California and private industry.

Total cost of the repair project is $9.49 million, according to Wyden's office. The lion's share of the remaining $2.4 million will come from Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad, owner of the line, said a Wyden spokesman.

A representative of the railroad based in Roseburg did not return calls from the Mail Tribune.

"Re-opening of the Siskiyou Summit line will have an immediate and important positive economic impact for Southern Oregon," Wyden said in a prepared statement. "It will save shippers hundreds of thousands dollars in transportation costs, get goods to market more efficiently, take heavy trucks off the interstate and reduce road damage."

"Southern Oregon has a reason to celebrate today," Merkley added. "This funding will help create jobs in Southern Oregon and strengthen the timber industry, which is vital to the region's economy. This grant will also help revitalize the rail infrastructure in the region and move freight from the road to the rail."

Mike Montero, co-chairman of the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation, agreed.

"What this will do is provide an alternative freight infrastructure option," he explained. "If you are an area shipper or receiver in the valley for heavy commodities like lumber, pipe or an array of other things, that can be more economically carried on rail."

While hauling freight by truck will always be needed, the rail line provides a much needed option for shipping, he stressed.

"It is a critical piece," he said of the rail line.

"And it won't benefit just the Rogue Valley," he said, adding that it would also help businesses in the Willamette Valley who are looking for options when it comes to shipping materials south.

DeFazio predicted an economic boost for the region as a result of the work.

"It will bring family-wage jobs and boost American manufacturing, ensure the safe and efficient shipment of goods, improve economic competitiveness in Douglas County and the Rogue Valley, and provide economic benefits to all of the communities served by the line," he said.

In a related development last week, the railroad was named among the Top 12 finalists of the ConnectOregon IV rankings, a program designed to enhance the state's non-highway infrastructure. The company is expected to receive $4.56 million, matched by an additional $1.14 million, to fund $5.7 million worth of tunnel improvements near Glendale. Funding approval by the Oregon Department of Transportation is scheduled for mid-August. That railroad work could begin as early as September or October, said Bob Ragon, spokesman for Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Association.

The entire 296-mile-long line runs from Eugene to Weed, Calif.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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