Shippers say rail demand increased in 2007

The Coos Siskiyou Shippers Coalition thinks it's found the Achilles heel in RailAmerica's most recent Surface Transportation Board filing as the shippers battle to restore rail service over the Siskiyou Summit.

RailAmerica claims demand for rail service had dropped prior to announcing it would curtail operations between Weed, Calif., and Ashland in December 2007.

But the coalition found that demand for railcar use over the Siskiyou Summit rose throughout 2007.

Rail service from Northern California over the Siskiyou Summit stopped altogether last spring when the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, a RailAmerica unit, ceased operation between Weed, Calif., and Ashland. The shippers coalition filed an emergency service petition with the STB last September, asking another rail line to take over the route.

Since then, both sides have submitted arguments and counter-arguments to the board with no sign of resolution.

"All along those guys have just been saying stuff and it's been hard to counter it," Coos Siskiyou Shippers spokesman Bob Ragon said. "Fortunately, in their last filing, they said pricing is the reason we did it (filed the petition). The whole thing about an emergency service petition is that it has to be based on lack of service, not pricing. That's exactly our case. They'd say 'Oh no, it's pricing' and did everything they could to get STB to think it was pricing. We were startled to see that demand had gone up."

In its filing on April 10, CORP and RailAmerica stated they reduced service to the shippers beginning in late 2007 because the number of cars that needed to be hauled had dropped off. As a result, the rail line said it reduced service from five days to two days per week.

In the shippers' rebuttal, Roseburg Forest Products and Timber Products documented that car volume had increased through November 2007 and was 22.4 percent higher in an 11-month comparison over corresponding periods in 2006. Traffic in every month exceeded the corresponding period a year earlier.

While the shippers anticipated a quick decision by the STB last fall, there isn't any reason to expect quick action now.

One of three positions on the board is vacant and the Obama administration needs to appoint a third board member.

"At this point, we don't think a decision is going to come any sooner than two months," Ragon said.

Ragon said the supplementary brief is one more filing than normally allowed by the STB, but it is a special response detailing RailAmerica's error.

"We sincerely hope that the STB will allow it into the record," Ragon said, adding a similar supplemental filing was accepted when the Coos Line issue was decided last year. The STB ruled the Port of Coos Bay could acquire the line instead of letting it be abandoned.

The shippers coalition is seeking for the West Texas and Lubbock Railway to take over the Siskiyou Line.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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