Timber Products may seek damages

Timber Products Co., the primary rail shipper over the Siskiyou Summit, has written a letter of complaint to Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad regarding the shutdown of its over-mountain line and suggested it may seek damages through the state Surface Transportation Board if previous commitments aren't kept.

A letter from Susan S. Hart of TPC's Yreka Veneer Division to Kevin Spradlin, CORP's general manager in Roseburg, outlined several shortcomings observed by the Springfield-based wood products firm that operates mills in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Hart noted that the rail company stated Dec. 13 in announcing the line's closure that it was committed to "working with our shippers to determine if we can secure enough revenue commitments to continue operating the (Siskiyou) line on a reduced schedule." Additionally, CORP stated that it would evaluate some combination of higher rates and seek additional volume in the interim period in an effort to "achieve the necessary economics."

However, in Timber Products' view, there have been several instances indicating the unit of RailAmerica had other intentions. Multiple phone calls to CORP managers seeking comment were not returned Friday.

Hart cited incidents of decreased service and increased transit time hindering Timber Products' ability to load its goods.

"If TPC can not plan a delivery date with a reasonable amount of assuredness," she wrote. "We are forced to use trucks for commodity that would normally be railed, resulting in increased costs."

The letter cited several instances hindering Timber Products' performance:

  • CORP failed to run scheduled hauler trips Jan. 31, Feb. 5 and Feb. 7.
  • Loss of efficient transit time resulted in unnecessary use of trucks.
  • In the first 12 days of February, TPC would have shipped 48 loads of veneer if CORP would have run Tuesday and Thursday trains as scheduled. TPC shipped 19 loads, a 60 percent reduction in service as measured using the curtailed service as a baseline.
  • CORP has left loaded cars at its Montague railhead on at least three occasions. (There were 18 cars waiting to be pulled and only 12 were pulled, leaving six for the next train.)
  • CORP is grouping cars into TPC's receiving mills, causing severe congestion and making it difficult to load and unload cars. The grouping of cars combined with missed trains is leading to longer cycle times per car.

"CORP's submission that they will 'look for additional volume' appears disingenuous in as much as they are not hauling anywhere near the available freight," Hart wrote. "Through no one's actions but their own, CORP is functionally causing the forced abandonment of rail freight opportunities, while at the same time increasing net costs to themselves and their shippers by leaving available freight behind."

Since 2000, Timber Products has paid for 1,100 carloads of freight annually, augmenting 1,200 carloads of chips CORP previously hauled for the firm. Timber Products said it was able to reduce truck traffic over Interstate 5 by 4,300 trips annually during much of the period.

She concluded: "Please be advised TPC is prepared to seek damage relief from CORP's failure to honor its common carrier obligations by formally petitioning the Surface Transportation Board."

Meanwhile, the Coos Bay Line Shippers group wrote Paul Lund-burg, RailAmerica's operations vice president, this week urging CORP to restore service on a line it closed there in September.

"If Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad does not return the embargoed line to the pre-embargo condition in a timely fashion the Coos Bay Line shippers will be forced to seek damages from CORP via a formal complaint with the Surface Transportation Board," wrote the group, headed by Roseburg Forest Products chief Allyn Ford.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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