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Two Union Pacific Trains rolled down the Siskiyou Pass through Ashland last week. This one was photographed as it passed over Highway 99 at the south end of the city. (Photo by Brandon Templeton)

UP trains not likely to roll through valley

We’ve Apparently seen the last of Union Pacific trains rolling through the Rogue Valley.

A pair of Union Pacific trains meandered over the Siskiyou Pass last weekend and were hooked together in Medford before pushing north. The rare visit followed a May 29 tunnel collapse on UP’s line connecting Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley between Odell Lake and Oakridge.

Bob Melbo, state rail planner in ODOT’s Rail and Public Transit Division, said Thursday the UP train with about 72 empty flatcars was a one-off movement on Central Oregon & Pacific tracks to provide shippers with empty cars.

“Union Pacific planned to reroute the cars via Salt Lake, but CORP was concerned that shippers in Oregon would run short of cars before the train could get back to Oregon, so they worked out a deal with UP to accept the equipment at Black Butte (near Weed, California),” Melbo said.

CORP’s concern was that Union Pacific’s large six-axle locomotives might beat up its track on curves as its braked down the Siskiyous, he said. “As a result, the train was cut in half at Hornbrook then reassembled in Medford.

Melbo said UP now anticipates reopening the tunnel June 15.

“The bottom line is, despite the romanticism, the Siskiyou line just isn’t well-suited to be a viable detour route on short notice,” Melbo said. “Aside from some of the heaviest ascending grades in the western U.S., there are vertical clearance restrictions still extant in some tunnels.”

Beyond that, Melbo said, it was questionable how much manpower CORP could spare to provide engineers and conductors to guide UP train crews across the unfamiliar territory. And then there’s the 300-mile stretch between Black Butte and Springfield Junction.

“Due to the federal hours of service limiting maximum on-duty time to 12 hours and slower track prevalent on the Siskiyou, you can’t get across the territory without stopping somewhere en route to rest the crew or mustering at least one relief crew,” Melbo said.

The logistics of transporting personnel between their home bases further erode the time available to actually operate the train.

“Back in the day, when the Siskiyou Line was being regularly operated as a through route, the infrastructure and personnel resources existed for supporting such an operation day in and day out,” Melbo said. “But those systems aren’t in evidence today and they can’t be easily and quickly recreated to facilitate short-lived emergency detours.”

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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