Railroad affirms it will abandon Coos Bay line
The Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in a filing last week that the railroad has ceased seeking financial solutions to repair and reopen a 136-mile-long Coos Bay rail line.
'To be clear: COPR will file an application seeking board authorization to abandon the Coos Bay line at the earliest time permitted under the Board's regulations,' said railroad attorney Terence Hynes in a four-page letter to the STB.
The railroad, which is owned by the Florida-based Fortress Investment Group through COPR parent firm RailAmerica, told the STB that assertions from Oregon state officials that the railroad might reopen the line if the state, shippers and stakeholders put up $23 million to repair and upgrade the line are wrong.
Last September, COPR used a federal railroad law that allows for a temporary emergency stoppage of service, called an embargo, to abruptly shutter the Eugene and Coquille freight route. The closure forced dozens of Coos Bay region rail shippers to absorb millions of dollars in costs as they turned to trucks for transporting their products and delivering raw materials.
RailAmerica originally pointed to safety issues regarding three tunnels on the line for calling the emergency closure. The firm later revealed that it had known about the tunnel issues for more than a year before shuttering the line. RailAmerica then said the issue was actually one of economics, with the line not generating enough business to justify the repairs.
Federal law stipulates that rail carriers must provide service upon reasonable request. Federal law only allows for temporary suspensions in case of weather or flood damage, tunnel deterioration or traffic congestion.
However, the STB pointed out at the time that a railroad cannot stop or deny service simply because of difficulty or expense.
The law also requires railroads to either reopen embargoes lines quickly or abandon them.
The STB said earlier this year that RailAmerica's actions suggest that COPR's closure of the line, while perhaps reasonable, may have lasted too long.
In mid-April, the STB gave COPR 30 days to prove that the firm did not violate federal law in shutting down the line.
On May 8, the COPR changed its system map to indicate the line as abandoned. Under STB rules, COPR is required to wait 60 days after publishing the system map change before it can submit a formal abandonment application. COPR is expected to file a preliminary notice of intent to abandon the line with the STB this week.
Since the closure Oregon state officials, including Gov. Ted Kulongoski, members of the state Congressional delegations, and a coalition of affected shippers, have remained critical and vocal about COPR's actions. The groups claim that COPR knew about the deteriorating conditions in the route's tunnels for at least 13 years and did nothing them.
COPR and RailAmerica claim they did their best to keep the line open, even going as far as spending 40 percent of COPR's gross profits to maintain the rails, bridges and crossings along the route.