ASHLAND ' Tunnel 13 on the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad Co. line through the Siskiyou Mountains, closed since vandals set a fire in it 16 months ago, is set to reopen this week.

We expect to open (tonight) to run our first train, Wednesday night at the latest, said Dan Lovelady, general manager with Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad.

He said a special grand opening is scheduled for April 21 at the tunnel.

The reopening of Tunnel 13 near the Siskiyou Summit will mean the return of twice-daily freight trains through the Rogue Valley and over the mountains into California.

The railroad is using the line as it prepares for the 3,100-foot tunnel's reopening. A single engine is hauling flatbed cars to and from the tunnel. The flatbeds have been used at the summit to store equipment and supplies during winter, in addition to moving equipment up and down the mountain as work on the tunnel progressed.

The tunnel has been closed since vandals set fire to it Nov. 17, 2003, collapsing the structure in several areas and filling it with debris.

Crews have been working since December 2003 to remove rubble from the tunnel, the only rail route to Northern California between Klamath Falls and the coast. Officials predicted the tunnel would reopen in June 2004, but dangerous work conditions slowed crews' progress.

During the tunnel closure, trains carrying timber products and other goods south through White City were rerouted north to Eugene, east to Klamath Falls and then across the Oregon-California border. Products took 10 to 13 days to detour and reach California destinations instead of five.