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Train cars gone from tracks in Ashland's Railroad District

The lengthy line of dormant train cars once being stored along A Street in Ashland's Railroad District have vanished.

That doesn't mean more unused cars won't take their place in the near future, though, said Steve Hefley, general manager of Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad.

Since CORP no longer uses the Ashland section of track for hauling freight, the railroad charges leasing companies and other train car owners a fee for storing cars there, Hefley said.

"If someone calls me and wants to store their cars, they'll be back," he said. "In fact, I'll be out looking for somebody to store their cars there. It's about making money."

Until last week, the 100 or so train cars were parked in Ashland for the past three years. They are owned by CIT Rail, a railroad finance and leasing company, and Mitsubishi Companies, said Hefley.

Because of the recession, Hefley said, up to 50,000 cars are parked throughout the country. The cars in Ashland were center-beam flatcars designed to haul lumber, but Hefley doesn't know whether they are being put back to use or being scrapped.

The section of track between Hornbrook, Calif., and Medford has hardly been used since 2008, when CORP closed the line to rail freight over the Siskiyous after shippers balked at rate increases and reduction of trains.

The string track running through Ashland is a part of CORP's Southern Oregon line, which extends from Eugene to Weed, Calif. Hefley said CORP still operates trains through Medford and in the Montague area of Northern California, near Weed.

He said the Oregon Department of Transportation is considering applying for $14 million in federal funding this year to rehabilitate the lines running over the Siskiyous and to perform work on tunnels south of Ashland. That could lead to running trains again, he said.

Since the train cars have been moved, foot traffic can now easily move across the tracks where the cars were stored between Oak Street and North Mountain Avenue.

The City of Ashland has received hundreds of complaints since the cars were parked there in early 2009 because the 15-foot tall, hitched-together steel cars hindered walkers, even though train tracks are on private property, said Jim Olson, engineering services manager for the city, and trespassing on railroad property could lead to a $6,200 fine and a year-long jail sentence.

"Those cars were not moved to aid pedestrian traffic across the train tracks." he said. "It's CORP's goal to keep foot traffic out of there."

If CORP decides to store more cars there in the future, Olson said the city will not attempt to negotiate with CORP for storing them somewhere else.

"The city is not going to look at anything that would condone pedestrian use of the private property there," Olson said. "It's unfortunate and inconvenient ... but pedestrians need to stay on the public right of ways."

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