Much to the delight of railroad buffs, a giant Union Pacific train ran through the Rogue Valley Friday and Saturday, June 1-2, perhaps for the first time.
It was a “historic event,” notes local train fan Brandon Templeton, who photographed the train’s movements through the Rogue Valley over a couple days. The train was detoured due to a tunnel collapse near Oakridge. Tunnel No. 11, midway between Odell Lake and Oakridge, collapsed around 2 p.m., May 29. No injuries were reported, but thousands of dollars in delays and inconvenience have followed for the nation’s second-largest rail line.
“They sent a train through our little line, the first time UP has ever operated here in the history of the line as far as I know, and the first time a train this large, 80 cars or so, has been here since Southern Pacific sold the line to CORP,” said Templeton.
The line of the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad (CORP) runs between Eugene and Black Butte, by Mount Shasta, California. Debris in the blocked tunnel should be cleaned up by June 10, but meanwhile UP trains are being diverted mainly from Portland via Salt Lake City, said UP spokesman Justin Jacobs — with the detour through the Rogue Valley being a rare exception.
The train was mostly empty cars — and CORP took it from UP in Black Butte and drove it to Eugene, said CORP spokesman Michael Williams. The two systems normally “interchange” cars in Eugene. When the tunnel is open, as expected by June 10, UP again will take its freight to Eugene on its own track, east of the Cascades, he adds.
It’s not known if a UP train will again use CORP track through Medford-Ashland this week, Williams said, but it could happen. Amtrak also has had to adjust, busing passengers between Eugene and Klamath Falls on the Coast Starlight route.
UP is removing debris from a 50-foot tunnel and plans to insert and weld a steel liner in place, thus opening its line from Portland to Northern California, he said. The cars carry “just about anything that American families can use,” from lumber, chemicals, fertilizer, and rock to beer and grain, Jacobs says.
Templeton’s Facebook details his June 1 train-spotting jaunt. On Friday, UP halved its train (to avoid derailment in the steep hills), attached UP locomotives and sent them over Siskiyou Pass an hour apart. They passed “through the infamous Tunnel 13, where the last famous train robbery took place in 1923. I followed the first half of the train from Ashland to Medford, with photos at the Route 99 overpass, Talent, Phoenix, and South Medford.
“The first half of the train stopped in the Medford yard for the night. I waited in Talent for the second half to arrive, but as the hours passed, it became clear something had gone wrong. We found the train just south of Talent, stopped on the main, and tied down for the night, hearing rumors that the crew timed out or that they may have had mechanical trouble.
“Early in the morning on June 2, I found the train in the same location, with a new crew, ready to depart. I followed the second half along the same path, and all the way to the Medford yard where the two trains were assembled back into a single long train, and again tied down for the night, to depart for Eugene on June 3.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail Tribune reporter Greg Stiles contributed to this report.