Businesses, lawmakers critical of rail shutdown

PORTLAND — Regional shippers and several members of Oregon's congressional delegation say the owner of a closed railroad line has shirked its duties and urged federal regulators to increase their oversight of carriers.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith and Rep. Peter DeFazio testified Thursday before the federal Surface Transportation Board, along with Allyn Ford, representing the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition of shippers.

All complained about the problems the state has faced since Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad — and its parent company, RailAmerica — abruptly closed the line that runs between the Eugene and Coos Bay areas last fall.

"We depend on railroads," Smith told the board at the hearing in Washington, D.C. "We need owners who are serious about railroads because we are serious about them."

RailAmerica officials declined comment, but are expected to speak before the board today.

The Oregon delegation has been vocal about the difficulties the shutdown caused businesses that had to scramble to find alternate means of getting their goods to market. They've also lambasted the owners for conflicting messages about the decision and failure to reopen the line.

"Buying a railroad is not like buying a fast-food franchise," Smith said. "There is a responsibility to serve the public that comes with owning a railroad." RailAmerica offered a deal last week to users on the Siskiyou Line between Weed, Calif., and the Willamette Valley that would have boosted rates 150 percent. However, coalition members declined to go along with increases, calling the proposal untenable and unacceptable.

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