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A Union Pacific train makes its way into Ashland after being rerouted due to a tunnel collapse. (Photo by Brandon S. Templeton)

Union Pacific makes rare appearance on local tracks

Sharp-eyed Rogue Valley residents may have noticed unusual railroad traffic recently traveling north through Jackson and Josephine counties last weekend.

A pair of Union Pacific trains snaked over the Siskiyou Summit Line into Ashland and on through Talent, Phoenix and Medford.

A tunnel collapsed last week on Union Pacific’s line connecting Central Oregon with the Willamette Valley, causing major headaches and rerouting of hundreds of cars that normally rumble through neighboring Klamath County when heading north and south.

“While crews are making repairs near Oakridge, we’ve had to reroute trains across different parts of our network,” said Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs.

Tunnel No. 11, midway between Odell Lake and Oakridge, collapsed around 2 p.m., May 29. No injuries were reported, but thousands of dollars in delays and inconvenience have followed for the nation’s second-largest rail line.

“The majority of our cars coming down from Portland had to go to Salt Lake City and on down,” Jacobs said.

That didn’t make sense for every shipper or Union Pacific customer in the West, so it took a little logistical revamping to move freight to the Willamette Valley. The 296-mile Siskiyou Line, stretching between Weed and Eugene, was sold to the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad in 1994. With only a handful of cars moving between Siskiyou and Lane counties on a daily basis, the CORP route made sense.

“We own a majority of our own track, but we have trackage rights and agreements in place to operate other places, including the Siskiyou Line,” Jacobs said.

The typical Union Pacific train has an average of 80 cars and can exceed 100 cars on major routes. The trains roll at an average of 55 mph in rural areas. But the steep grades across the Siskiyous are no easy task and generally require extra engines.

Two Union Pacific trains, using both UP and CORP engines, were assembled at Black Butte, near Weed, and headed north Friday, an hour or so apart.

The first hit the valley about 6:30 p.m., and overnighted in the north Medford rail yard. A second one spent the night north of Ashland.

Brandon Templeton, a graphic artist who works for hobby firm Micro-Trains Line Co., in Talent, said he paced the UP train at about 8 mph through Ashland. Speeds picked up to about 30 mph between Talent and Phoenix.

“I saw a lot of people trying to figure out why this big train was coming through,” Templeton said.

Joe Damato, a design engineer at Micro-Trains Line Co., said the train included box cars, bulkhead cars, flatcars and center-beam flat cars, along with some hoppers.

“Most of them were empty, but some were bringing stuff to be dropped off at Dillard and Eugene,” Damato said. The two trains hooked up and continued north as an 80-car Sunday evening, pulling through Grants Pass at about 10:45 p.m. (Day corrected online)

“With such a long train, I imagine they waited so there would be minimal disruption,” Templeton said.

Jacobson said tunnel repairs should be done sometime this week and regular runs restored by next Monday.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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