Trains consistently moving freight over the Siskiyous will give Southern Oregon shippers a viable new option for reaching California markets and their own facilities there, which have been cut off from rail access for the past four years, stakeholders say.

Trains consistently moving freight over the Siskiyous will give Southern Oregon shippers a viable new option for reaching California markets and their own facilities there, which have been cut off from rail access for the past four years, stakeholders say.

A $7.09 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation last week to the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad for repairs to its 296-mile-long line between Eugene and Weed, Calif., should bring regular train traffic back to the Siskiyou Summit line, between Ashland and Weed, by the end of 2014, according to the Siskiyou Summit Railroad Revitalization grant application.

The rail company plans to add $2.4 million of its own money to restore the 80-mile stretch over the Siskiyou Summit, according to a letter in the application to the department of transportation from Dave Arganbright, CORP vice president.

Some shippers who used the line between Oregon and California in the past have been contacted for future shipping arrangements, said John Bullion, assistant general manager for CORP.

"We don't know how much we'll be shipping. We would hope to have quite a bit, though," he said.

"Lumber is the majority of our business, or it's a major part of it. As it grows and declines we grow and decline."

Grain, fruit, minerals, fertilizer, propane and other commodities also are on the list of freight CORP hauls to and from the Rogue Valley, Bullion said.

According to its grant application, CORP has transported about 16,700 carloads of cargo over the Siskiyou Summit line in the past two years.

Wood products — including shipments from RFP and the Swanson Group — make up 88 percent of the cargo transported by rail between Dillard, where the train splits for Coos Bay south of Roseburg, and Ashland, according to the railroad's grant application.

Roger Rutan, vice president of marketing for Springfield-based Timber Products, which has two plywood plants in White City, said he is hopeful the rail line's improvements will translate into a cheaper shipping option.

"We've got our softwood mill in Yreka, and the train used to be our main way of getting veneer out of Medford, and further north, over the mountain," he said.

"There is still work to be done, but any improvements to that line (Siskiyou Summit) will allow for more rail traffic, I would think."

The lumber products manufacturer is currently trucking material over the Siskiyous, he said, which is costly and, "in today's market, having a viable shipping option can make the difference of turning a profit."

The railroad company also is banking on receiving a $4.6 million ConnectOregon grant which will be awarded this summer to enlarge four tunnels near Glendale to accommodate new, larger boxcars.

Current boxcars have the capacity of about 31/2; freight semitrailers.

The high-capacity cars will be able to handle 20 percent more cargo than the existing cars, and hold about 100 tons each.

Work to revamp the line would be completed through Oregon Department of Transportation and private contractors.

"Short-term, it'll put folks to work," said Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick, who has been on the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. board for about 16 years. "This place is never going to be a Tennessee for trains, but reopening the line makes all the sense in the world."

The Siskiyou Summit line has been closed to consistent train traffic since May 2008.

The closure came after CORP raised fees for using the line and after Timber Products Co., and Roseburg Forest Products Co., the line's two largest customers, turned down the increase and began using trucks to ship their wood products.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.