Coos Bay rail line rises in value

COOS BAY — There's good news and bad news in the International Port of Coos Bay's effort to take over a rail line that runs from Coos Bay to Eugene.

Inspectors have determined that critical pieces of the 111-mile line are in no worse shape than they were last September, when the railroad's owner halted traffic because of safety concerns.

Having the line in relatively decent shape is important because it might be more expensive to buy than port officials figured. An increase in steel prices means the line is now worth $14.4 million, well above the previous estimate of $9.8 million, said Martin Callery, the port's director of communications.

The higher cost reflects a jump in scrap metal prices, which increased the value of the rails and other trackwork since the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad closed the line because of safety risks in three tunnels.

The port has a pledge of $4 million in state transportation grant funding, plus another $8 million if U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., successfully reallocates money Congress had made available to fix a rail bridge across Coos Bay.

But beyond that, Callery said, the port would be borrowing money from the private sector to pay for the purchase.

"We've got a line of credit, and we're developing a repayment plan based on the revenue stream that will be generated from reopening rail service," Callery said.

The federal Surface Transportation Board is expected to decide next month whether to accept the port's application to take over the line. Without it, some coastal businesses have resorted to trucks for shipping, and that's been driving up costs.

The port hopes eventually to improve the line to make it better than it has been in many years. The degradation in some sections of the line limits trains to 10 mph. The port hopes to boost that to 40 mph.

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