Ore. delegation seeks vote on Siskiyou line

AP News
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Posted: Dec 25, 2009 2:25 PM

Three members of Oregon's congressional delegation have sent a letter to the new chairman of the federal Surface Transportation Board, asking him to quickly decide on whether to allow a railroad company to operate a 218-mile commercial rail line between Oregon and California.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio sent the letter last week to Daniel Elliott, asking him to bring the matter to a vote. The line between Dillard, Ore., and Black Butte, Calif. would be operated by Yreka Western Railroad Co.

Two years ago, Roseburg-based Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad curtailed southbound service between Ashland and Weed, Calif., and sliced northbound service from five or six days a week to two.

The railroad said the cutbacks reflected lower demand on the Siskiyou line.

Shippers claimed the railroad deliberately downgraded service. A year ago, the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to allow Yreka Western to take over the line.

In March, the board said the coalition hadn't proven that rail service was "inadequate" and asked for additional information. Not much has happened since then.

"It has been nearly nine months since the coalition submitted the requisite information to demonstrate the inadequacy of that service," Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio wrote. "We urge you to move as quickly as possible to rule fairly on the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition's petition."

The reduced service forced shippers along the line to switch from rail transportation to more expensive trucking.

"Reliable and affordable railroad service is critical to the well-being of rural business and economies in Oregon," they wrote. "Often rail is the only affordable transportation option for timber, manufacturing and industrial businesses in our state."

Bob Ragon, spokesman for the shippers coalition, said he was pleased with the congressional pressure.

"We've had no indication of where they are with reviewing our request and issuing a decision, so we're happy our congressional delegation sent the letter," Ragon said.

Dave Arganbright, an assistant vice president for RailAmerica, CORP's parent company, declined comment on the letter, but said the railroad _ if properly compensated _ will allow another operator to use the line.

"CORP then engaged in negotiations with prospective operators, but we were unable to reach agreement with them," Arganbright said in an e-mail to the News-Review newspaper of Roseburg.

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Information from: The News-Review, http://www.nrtoday.com