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February 9, 2014
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Wilbur rail crossings spur controversy

WILBUR — When a railroad switching yard moved from downtown Roseburg to Winchester four years ago, delays at rail crossings in the city were made fewer and shorter.

The delays didn’t disappear, though. They moved north, say Wilbur residents.

Backed-up boxcars are now blocking crossings at North Bank Road and Highway 99. Sometimes the waits are long, residents say.

“We’ll often sit there for a half hour and sometimes there would be just one car over the crossing,” said Wilbur resident Jennifer Carloni.

Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad says the long trains extending from the switching yard on the other side of Interstate 5 are good economic signs.

But Wilbur residents say the delays are an inconvenience and possibly life-threatening if trains force emergency vehicles to detour to Sutherlin to get around the crossings.

CORP moved the switching yard with the help of public funding and is seeking another state grant to relocate more of its operations from Roseburg to Winchester.

Some Wilbur residents say the railroad should first address the delays at the crossings.

“Everybody who lives out North Bank Road is in jeopardy if they have an emergency, and there’s a train there blocking that crossway,” Carloni said.

The Roseburg switching station was between Umpqua Dairy and Micelli Park west of Southeast Pine Street.

The switching yard’s move to land north of Douglas County Forest Products on Del Rio Road was financed by a $7.7 million state grant.

CORP’s parent company Genesee & Wyoming has applied for more state funding to help pay for a $4.9 million move of the Roseburg office and Eugene locomotive repair shop to Winchester.

A group, Rail Rage, formed to lobby for shorter delays, says Genesee should first pay for a new road that bypasses the railroad crossings.

Railroad spokesman Patrick Kerr said the company won’t build a bypass, but blocked drivers can call a toll-free number posted at the crossings in case of an emergency.

Kerr said the company is doing what it can to avoid blocking the roads but said some waits are inevitable at railroad crossings.

“We’re doing everything we can to minimize delays,” Kerr said. “We want to be good neighbors, but understand — we can’t just take a left. We have to go where the tracks go.”

Rail Rage founder Ray Sims, 92, lives in Roseburg, but attends Wilbur United Methodist Church on North Bank Road.

Sims said he has been blocked returning from the church just a half dozen times since the switching yard was moved to Winchester, but he founded Rail Rage because he was concerned about other church members.

“The people out here complain to me all the time that they’re stopped a couple times a week,” Sims said.

At a Rail Rage meeting about a year ago, a railroad representative told residents the company would strive for a maximum wait of 10 minutes. The railroad agreed to add cars to northbound trains in Sutherlin rather than at the Winchester switching yard.

Wilbur United Methodist Church member Don Akre, a Sutherlin resident, said the shorter delays didn’t last.

“After we had our meeting with the head guy from Eugene from the railroad, things were really good for about a month, then they went back to what they were. They promised no more than 10-minute crossings, and they have not kept that promise,” Akre said.

Two months after the meeting, Rail Rage members kept a log to record how often and how long trains blocked North Bank Road from April 11 to May 11. The log shows the train blocked the intersection for more than 10 minutes about 26 times. A half-dozen delays of about half an hour were recorded.

Akre said three months ago he was stopped for an hour and five minutes by a train. The most frustrating thing, he said, is that the train just stopped. It did not appear to be moving back and forth switching cars, he said.

“I think most everybody would agree if they could hold the blocking to 20 minutes or less, we wouldn’t have a big squabble with them,” he said.

Kerr said he is not aware of any half hour or hour-long delays and no one has called the company’s dispatch number to complain about them.

Although the Winchester switching yard holds 300 cars, more than twice the capacity of the Roseburg yard, Kerr said CORP did not anticipate a problem for Wilbur residents.

If both crossings are blocked, Wilbur residents heading to or coming from Roseburg must detour to Sutherlin. Emergency vehicles must take the same detour.

Douglas County Public Works Director Robb Paul said a bypass road might be the best solution to the problem, but the county can’t afford to build one.

A paved road would cost about $1 million. Because of a decrease in timber safety net payments, the county has $7 million to spend on road construction, $14 million less than it did a few years ago.

“With 1,100 miles of road to maintain, I just don’t have the money to go out and build a million-dollar road,” he said.

A gravel road would save only about $300,000 and would require continual maintenance, Paul said.

Kerr said CORP doesn’t have the jurisdiction to construct a road, but suggested residents build one themselves by obtaining permission from landowners and donated labor and materials.

He said the company needs to spend its money on improvements to its own infrastructure.

“We just don’t have money floating around and deep pockets, as everybody thinks,” he said.

Kerr said CORP’s trains are getting longer. Between 70 and 90 cars are attached to the average train at Winchester. That’s a five percent increase from a few years ago and reflects an uptick in products being shipped out of the area, Kerr said.

He said the rail line helps support about 5,800 jobs at lumber mills and other companies that would not be there without the transport the train provides. He said it would take three and a half trucks to carry the freight transported on a single rail car.

“It’s a good thing to have those longer trains from an economic standpoint,” Kerr said.

• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Feb 10, 2014 01:28PM Published Feb 11, 2014 07:46AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.