Take action now to save rail lines

The Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad's announcement that it plans to cut back freight service over the Siskiyou Summit has hit shippers on both sides of the border like a blast of cold air. The troubled rail line is important to the economies of Southern Oregon and far Northern California, and lawmakers in both states should get involved in finding a solution.

COPR officials say the rail company loses money on the line, and must reduce shipments over the pass to stem those losses. If the cutback doesn't produce enough savings, COPR says it will end shipments entirely on April 15.

The decision leaves companies facing the prospect of moving their goods by truck — a more expensive proposition — or putting up with much longer delivery times by rail through Eugene and Klamath Falls.

In Jackson County, the reduced shipments primarily affect Timber Products, which ships green veneer from Yreka to Medford. In Siskiyou County, however, Roseburg Forest Products ships veneer from Weed to Roseburg, and Crystal Geyser sends its bottled water north from Weed.

Together, the three companies employ 435 people in Siskiyou County, according to reports in the Redding Record Searchlight.

The Siskiyou cutback comes on the heels of COPR's abrupt decision to close the rail line between Coquille and Eugene, threatening the long-term health of American Bridge Manufacturing in Reedsport, which relied on the line to receive raw materials and ship out finished products.

Industry spokesmen point out that rail shipping is more cost-effective and uses less fuel than trucking. And anyone who drives Interstate 5 in either direction can testify that there are more than enough trucks on the road already.

Industry leaders have formed the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition to put pressure on the railroad company. That's a worthwhile effort, but it could use some help.

For too long, rail lines in this country have been neglected while billions in tax dollars have been poured into state and federal highways. Trucking companies have benefited from those highway projects while railroads have been left on their own.

Government leaders in Oregon and California should take an active role in working to save vital rail links and the jobs that depend on them.

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