Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad said Thursday it has proposed new contracts to shippers along the Siskiyou Line running between Weed, Calif., and Medford.

Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad said Thursday it has proposed new contracts to shippers along the Siskiyou Line running between Weed, Calif., and Medford.

"We are confident that the terms CORP proposed to our shippers will provide them a freight rail solution that costs them less than competitive alternatives and that allows CORP to continue ongoing operations on the Siskiyou segment," said CORP President Bob Jones in a statement issued by RailAmerica Inc., of Boca Raton, Fla. "Once agreements are signed, CORP intends to invest nearly $5 million in track improvements on this portion of the CORP system line."

Jones is a RailAmerica vice president based in California whose duties include being president of the company's shortline operation. CORP closed its Coos Line in September and reduced runs over the Siskiyou Summit to two times a week on Jan. 15. It announced it would end service over the mountainous route on April 15.

"CORP put a concrete proposal with concrete numbers in front of our largest shippers on that segment of our line," said Heidi Eddins, a RailAmerica vice president for government affairs and public relations. "In our view it should be appealing to them and allow us to keep operating the line and make capital improvements."

She was unsure where the meeting or meetings took place. Telephone calls to two major CORP customers — Roseburg Forest Products and Timber Products — were not immediately returned Thursday.

Dave Schott, spokesman for the Southern Oregon Timber Industry Association, said it appears CORP seeks guarantees of more volume at higher prices from its clients.

"I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar on that," Schott said. "Unfortunately, lumber has not been what it was volume-wise."

Primary rail companies such as Burlington Northern and Union Pacific have previously taken such a route.

"They've done that, making contractual arrangements to make freight service more readily available," Schott said. "If you guarantee the volume and amount, you get the cars first when there are shortages. The mills that aren't part of the contract would be way down the line."

Wood products operators have been supplanted by other shippers in recent years.

"Coal is the big money-maker for railroads now," Schott said. "We're not seeing near the amount shipped in the past and with housing starts down by 45 percent over where they were two years ago, that's not going to change. Coal is the big money-maker now for railroads, shipping out of south Wyoming and Montana."

Chris West of the American Forest Resource Council, a coalition of forest products manufacturers and landowners in Western states which claims both Timber Products and Roseburg Forest Productions as members, said the communique is a hopeful sign.

"It's always a good thing in times like these when the lumber market is really bad," West said. "The added shipping costs continue to make Western producers less competitive to their brethren both in Canada and other parts of the country."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.