CORVALLIS — Farm and lumber companies want to buy a 23-mile rail line that has been closed because of safety reasons.

CORVALLIS — Farm and lumber companies want to buy a 23-mile rail line that has been closed because of safety reasons.

The Willamette & Pacific Railroad, which leases the tracks from Union Pacific, halted service on the Bailey Branch stretch of track in south Benton County last summer, citing a rash of derailments.

Bruce Carswell, president of the shortline railroad, said it was a first step toward asking federal authorities for approval to abandon the line. The shortline operator said low freight volumes did not justify the cost of repairs.

The line ends at the Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill in Dawson. The mill was among nine shippers that lost weekly rail service and signed on to a lawsuit to get the line reopened.

But early this month the plaintiffs dropped the suit and opened discussions with Union Pacific officials about buying the branch line, the Gazette-Times newspaper reported.

"It was a good-will effort to attempt to get this thing settled out of court if it was possible to do so," said Wayne Giesy, a former partner in Hull-Oakes Lumber.

In turn, Giesy said, Union Pacific dropped its asking price for the Bailey Branch from $2.1 million to around $1.8 million.

James Barnes, director of media information for the Union Pacific, acknowledged that negotiations are taking place but declined to provide specifics.

Willamette & Pacific officials have been threatening to abandon the line for years, citing low freight volumes and high repair costs. But they had always stopped short of halting the weekly run from Corvallis to Dawson in the face of opposition from shippers and elected officials.

Abandonment, the permanent closing of a rail line, is a formal procedure that requires approval by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

No abandonment request has been filed with the board so far.