Thursday, September 10, 2009

Port starts repair work on Oregon rail line

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The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay will begin repairs this week on a series of tunnels whose deterioration led to the September 2007 closure of the 110-mile Coos Bay line formerly operated by Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, The News-Review in Roseburg, Ore., reports. The work is the first stage of a rehabilitation project to get the rail line back in operational shape. Officials hope the line could be running again by the second or third quarter of next year.

"We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to get this back up and running so we can start serving the mills and other customers of this line," port spokesman Martin Callery said.

The port agreed last year to buy the Coos Bay line from CORP, after the Roseburg-based railroad petitioned the federal Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C., to abandon the line. The price, set by the STB, was $16.6 million.

LRL Construction Co. of Tillamook was selected through a bid process for the $2.5-million improvement project. The same company repaired a tunnel on CORP's Siskiyou line following a 2004 fire in the 3,100-foot-long tunnel above Ashland.

Four tunnels will be repaired during the initial phase of work. Crews will begin with Tunnel 13, located about a mile west of Vaughn. Vaughn in located in rural Lane County, south of Noti. The other three tunnels are located west and south of there, as the line heads toward Coos Bay.

Crews began moving equipment and supplies to the tunnel by rail car last week. Last week, inspectors evaluated the condition of the line. Conditions have not deteriorated significantly over the past few months, Callery said.

Besides working on the tunnels, the port will have to repair several bridges, including a movable crossing over the Siuslaw River at Cushman. In addition, the rail must be resurfaced in places and some ties must be replaced. There are also crossings and signals that must be replaced or repaired.

The port is seeking additional money through the federal stimulus bill for other system upgrades. Those requests also include money for improvements on the Union Pacific-owned line between Coos Bay and Coquille, which CORP previously operated under contract.

Several mills and other businesses, including Roseburg Forest Products, have had to ship their products from coastal plants by truck since the Coos Bay line shut down. That has increased their shipping costs significantly. American Bridge, which has a facility on Bolon Island, north of Reedsport, has also had to rely on trucks for delivery of its components and materials.

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