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Railroad cleans up operation

Mail Tribune file photoDerailments pushed CORP into upgrade

A year after a series of train derailments, Central Oregon and PacificRailroad has apparently put itself back on track.

The company has renovated its trains, cleared brush from around the tracksand repaired the rails. And it hasn't had a derailment since last summer.

They have really come along, said Howard Fegles, managerof the Oregon Department of Transportation's rail safety program. Theyhaven't been the subject of conversation around here for quite some time.They've turned around 100 percent.

A Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad (CORP) freight train derailed July20, 1996, spilling 2,000 gallons of formaldehyde in the Colestin Valley.That was the sixth CORP derailment in less than two years.

The seventh occurred just weeks later, on Aug. 17, when 11 carloads offormaldehyde-laden dirt broke loose and derailed during the cleanup.

Local residents united against the company, claiming it hadn't takennecessary precautions against fire, hadn't maintained its trains, hadn'tmaintained its rails and hadn't dealt properly with its accidents.

The company has changed, said Bob Libby, general manager of CORP, whichis a division of RailTex Inc., based in Austin, Texas.

It has been a great turnaround story, said Jim Davis, regionalgeneral manager for RailTex. They have certainly been focused on bringingout the best.

Since last summer, CORP has cleared brush and other fire fuels from aroundits tracks, Libby explained. It also sends water trucks behind trains tocheck for fires, in compliance with Department of Forestry requirements.It took care of exhaust problems on its engines that could have caused smallfires, and now maintains its machines better.

It's spent at least $2 million on improvements, Libby said.

We've done a lot of things differently, he said. Wego forward, not backward.

Libby said CORP bought the track from Southern Pacific in 1994, afterit had been neglected for several years. The track runs from Eugene to BlackButte, Calif., and from Eugene to Coquille.

CORP started renovating the track when it bought it, he said.

But Colestin resident Tod Davies said the railroad improved itself asa reaction to local complaints. Because of that, she worried it could slipback into its old habits if the community relaxes its vigilance.

I don't think it's anything to be relaxed about, she said.They only responded when we threatened to make a bigger and biggerfuss. You worry that they'll slide back.

Fegles said he didn't expect that to happen. Train companies lose moneyevery time they fall out of compliance with regulations, he explained. Theyespecially don't want derailments, which cost big money.

Libby didn't have a price estimate for CORP's July 20 derailment. Hesaid the Aug. 17 derailment cost the company more than $1 million.

But he said the company wouldn't slip because it's working hard to regaincommunity trust. He said the railroad respects the community and will continueto do so, fuss or no.

We scared them, and we shouldn't have, he said. Andthere's always going to be that fear in their minds.

For now, though, the railroad is doing right by local residents, Daviessaid. As long as that stays true, the railroad is welcome in the area, shesaid.

They are living up to their part of the agreement, and the community'shappy about it, she said. The community wants to continue tobe happy about it.

A Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad train makes its way up the Siskiyous.