Siskiyou Summit rail plan gathers steam

Like The Little Engine That Could, the Siskiyou Summit Railroad Revitalization project is pushing along with its growing list of backers thinking it can.

After the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition and the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad called a truce in an impasse that effectively closed rail activity between Weed, Calif., and Ashland in 2008, it took a while to gather momentum. Now the project tops the Oregon Department of Transportation's rail wish list as it seeks $7.05 million in federal funds to complete the $9.5 million effort to improve tunnels on the tracks.

The final submission — backed by both Oregon and California officials as well as a couple of dozen local governments and agencies — is now being considered in Washington, where $500 million will be divvied up in the coming months.

Rail traffic on the Siskiyou Pass line previously suffered because the route is not only a steep grade, but also has several tunnels that are not built to handle the taller freight cars now often used by railroads. But the route does provide a potentially lucrative link between Oregon and California.

"Our consulting firm has been successful in obtaining past grant awards and they thought this was our strongest suit," said Bob Ragon, spokesman for the Shippers Coalition. "Reopening 100 miles of rail line closed for some time for under $10 million makes for a strong case. A lot of (competing applications) are for much shorter lines and cost a lot more money. They thought that would be a good argument."

About 56 percent of the costs would be expended in Oregon and 44 percent in California. Private partners are kicking in nearly $2.4 million and local governments about $30,000.

A key argument in the proposal is that thousands of trucks would be taken off the freeway over the Siskiyou Summit. Another element is that construction-related employment would add the equivalent of more than 31 full-time jobs. It also would allow Southern Oregon manufacturers to ship products more competitively.

"The sooner we get that vital link reopened, the better," said Mark Von Holle, who heads the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. board.

"It's going to help the businesses already here and going to make us a more attractive location for businesses looking to our community for relocation and expansion purposes."

Von Holle said it took a lot of people — not always like-minded — pulling together to get the project this close to reality.

"We effectively triangulated and leveraged the influence as required," Von Holle said. "Everybody was working together because it was the most obvious thing we could do to improve our regional economy."

The result should be known sooner than it would be in some years, Ragon said.

"We know the (Obama) administration wants to hurry so that the impact of the jobs created are felt before the election," Ragon said. "I think we're going to hear fairly quickly."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

Share This Story