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Federal inspectors this week were on the tracks and in the tunnels of a 120-mile short line between Eugene and Coquille, checking to see if Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad made the right call when it closed the line last month for safety reasons.
Railroad officials have said three of the nine tunnels on the line pose a safety risk to workers. 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.
Georgia-Pacific reopened its lumber mill in Coos Bay on Monday after shutting down on Sept. 24. At the time it closed, company officials said they needed to work out alternative transportation plans. About 65 percent of the sawmill's lumber previously went out over the Coos Bay short line to Eugene. Trucks are now doing the hauling.
When the railroad announced the shutdown, company officials said there wasn't enough traffic on the line to justify the estimated $7 million in repairs. The comment led some politicians and business people to suspect that the railroad was really trying to abandon the line or at least force the government to help foot the bill.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., asked the Federal Railroad Administration to inspect the line and determine if the safety concerns hold up. If not, the congressman could challenge the embargo, and possibly force the line to reopen.
The railroad has provided a copy of its engineering report on the tunnels to the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration, said Kelly Taylor, the state's rail division administrator.
Taylor said it appears the report is thorough, but she declined to discuss specifics until after she gets feedback from a state engineer.
At issue is whether the railroad was justified in filing an embargo on the line, which is allowed under federal law if there's an immediate condition that requires a shutdown, and there's an accompanying plan to fix the problem.
At a meeting of south coast transportation interests on Thursday, Martin Callery, director of communications and freight mobility for the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, said he had heard that the railroad was losing more than a million dollars annually on the line, but that better traffic on the Siskiyou short line was blunting that impact.
Callery said that, based on discussions with railroad officials, he estimates the closure of the Coos Bay line will put an additional 1,131 trucks per month on the road &
or 52 per day. North Bend City Administrator Jan Willis said she was concerned about the increased truck traffic.
Federal inspectors check coast short line
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