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Rail fight gets hotter

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Monday, September 01, 2008

COOS BAY The battle over the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad — the 126-mile line between Coquille and Eugene that serves forest product, natural gas and manufacturing companies — is turning into a full-bore train wreck as the conflict jumps from Oregon to Washington, D.C, and back.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based RailAmerica, which owns the line, shut it down last year due to critical problems in three of the line’s 125-year-old tunnels. The company wanted the state and private companies to foot the majority of a $30 million repair bill but failed; it’s now asking the federal Surface Transportation Board if it can abandon the line.

In Oregon, opposition to that request has been unanimous. Sen. Ron Wyden went so far as to block a White House nominee for the STB as a way to highlight his opposition to the agency possibly closing the line. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, added legislation to a bill that would give the Port of Coos Bay $8 million to buy the railroad (another $4 million would come from the Oregon Transportation Commission).

Marin Callery, director of freight mobility at the port, estimates coastal shippers are losing $500,000 a month because of the closure. The SBA was expected to hold a hearing in Eugene — the first step in determining the fate of the line — in late August.

ABRAHAM HYATT



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