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Don't expect passenger rail service in these parts

Why is it that we have I-5 from the north end of the state to the south end but when traveling by train the Medford/Ashland area is pretty nonexistent? I know I would use Amtrak for personal and business use if Amtrak were to service the Medford/Ashland area. I also would be able to have family visit more often. Instead, Amtrak routes to Klamath Falls. Is customer travel service ever going to come to this area?

— Scales Clan, by email

Don't hold your breath waiting for passenger rail service to come to the Rogue Valley anytime soon. Neither the Oregon Department of Transportation nor Amtrak have any encouraging words to offer on your suggestion.

ODOT is conducting a statewide feasibility study to upgrade passenger and freight lines, but it mostly focuses on upgrades in the Eugene-Portland corridor said ODOT Rail Program Coordinator Kathy Holmes.

According to Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham, Amtrak has never offered direct passenger train service to Medford/Ashland. Amtrak does offer bus service between Klamath Falls to Medford to connect the valley to north-south rail service.

Passenger trains once did grace our valley, but Southern Pacific cut the service in 1955 over the protests of state and local officials and union representatives. Railroad officials said the Rogue Valley route suffered from a number of problems, chief among them the 1926 Natron Cutoff that diverted most Pacific Northwest rail traffic away from the Siskiyou route through Medford to the Cascade route through Klamath Falls. The new line was 25 miles shorter, easier to maintain and had fewer steep grades.

In the more recent past, Amtrak officials have said that impediments to adding service through Ashland and Medford include lack of sidetracks for passing, steep inclines over the Siskiyous and too many areas, including the Siskiyous, in which trains would have to travel at slow speeds, sometimes as slow as 10 mph.

A $100,000 state study completed 10 years ago also suggests there would be a cost issue. Improving rail connections to current standards just between Ashland and Grants Pass would cost $91 million (in 2001 dollars), the study said, and would cost another $6 million to $10 million annually to operate.

A group called the Southern Oregon Commuter Rail Study Committee recommended the plan move forward, but that was about the last anyone heard of it.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.