End of local rail era is just a rumor on the Internet

    Carloads of rail ties seen along Union Pacific lines south of the Siskiyou Summit have prompted some observers to wonder if the end was near for Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad's southbound traffic into Northern California.

    There has been plenty of Internet chatter heralding an end of an era.

    But that's news to the folks who run the local rail line.

    "What people are seeing are the ties we distributed in one area and are taking to another," says CORP General Manager Kevin Spradlin. "We've put in 20,000 ties south of Ashland and are putting in another 17,000 between Medford and Glendale."

    CORP leases a stretch of track south of the Siskiyou Summit into California from Union Pacific. Spradlin, who is relatively new to his role, said he wasn't sure how long the lease on the track lasted. But he said the stretch, which CORP's parent company has leased for nearly 13 years, is probably locked up for the long term.

    "A lot of those are 99-year leases," he said.

    Former railroad workers and rail fans who frequent Internet sites such as Altamont Press discussion boards and a Yahoo Group site devoted to CORP, have feared the line's service south of Medford would end. That would mean more truck traffic over the Siskiyou Summit as happened when a fire in Tunnel 13 shut off traffic south of Ashland from November 2003 to April 2005.

    "We run a train each direction every day and people see a lot of local switching," says Tom Hackworth, a CORP marketer in the Roseburg office. "I don't know where these rumors get started. We hear them all the time. This year has been kind of slow (for rail freight) because of the housing market. But in the past few years we've hauled more freight in and out of Medford than before."

    Sally Ridenour, an Oregon Department of Transportation spokesperson said for a rail carrier to discontinue or abandon a line, several state and federal agencies would have to be given notice.

    "It's a quite a rigorous process," Ridenour said. "There hasn't been anything filed either with ODOT or the Federal Surface Transportation Board."

    To the contrary, Hackworth said CORP is gearing up to apply for Connect Oregon II grant money to upgrade its lines that reach up to Lane County and also over to Coos Bay.

    "We want to upgrade tunnels and tracks so we can use heavier and bigger cars so we can handle everyone's business better."

    The application period for Connect Oregon II funds begins Sept. 4.

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

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