Freight lines at crossroads

Trains move through the switch yard tracks near Medfordís Timber Products Friday afternoon. pennell photoBob Pennell

The decision to cut shipments over the Siskiyou Pass on the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad has a local timber company worried about delays and rising costs.

Starting Jan. 15, all California-bound traffic originating from Ashland or anywhere north of Ashland will be rerouted to Eugene, where it will head south to Klamath Falls on a Union Pacific line, the railroad company announced Thursday in a letter to shippers.

"We lose money operating over the Siskiyou Subdivision," spokesman Tom Hawksworth wrote. "In order to try to stem our losses we will be making several changes in our service offerings."

Shipments will continue travel over the Siskiyou Pass on a bi-weekly basis until April 15.

Hawksworth's letter pledges that the change will not affect shipper's costs, although the rerouting adds hundreds more rail miles for shippers out of the Rogue Valley.

Timber Products officials are pessimistic that the additional miles added on to the route will prove cost-effective.

"Our feeling is that we are hopeful, but skeptical that service will be improved," said Erik Vos, a business analyst at Timber Products' Springfield headquarters.

Vos bases his assumption on a tunnel collapse that shut down southbound shipments three years ago.

Millions were spent to reopen it after months of being closed.

"During that period our customers, primarily in Southern California, experienced delays of four to six weeks," Vos said. "That is not acceptable. It was just a too-extraordinary time to wait."

Timber Products is a major player in Southern Oregon industry, with plants in Medford, Grants Pass and White City.

According to Vos, the company runs roughly 1,500 rail cars a year north and ships around 2,500 cars south per year.

Hoping to influence the railroad's decision to stop traffic over the Siskiyou Pass, area shippers formed the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition two weeks ago.

Vos said the coalition remains committed to restoring direct rail shipments from Southern Oregon to California.

"This would increase our traffic volume to 20 to 30 trucks per day heading north," Vos said. "Normally, we can fit two and a half to three trucks in one rail car. It would certainly put a fair amount of pressure on us to convert to trucking."

He added that having both trucking and rail shipping as competitors helps keeps costs under control. Once the rail line disappears, trucking costs would surely jump, Vos said.

"Simply, rail shipping is more cost-effective," he said. "We are not standing still. We are looking at several options and lines of action to keep this service intact."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.