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Train tracks remain open for business

When is the train going to start running through Medford and Ashland again?

— Scott M., Ashland

Over the years, we've heard so many rumors and misinformation about the train that used to rumble through the valley before a rate dispute brought freight traffic to a grinding halt in 2008.

We've even heard Realtors and homeowners in the Ashland area say the line will never reopen. Is that just wishful thinking?

Steve Hefley, general manager for the rail line's owner, Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad (called CORP only — as far as we can tell — because it's pronounceable), said he hopes that sometime in the future, he will be able to run freight through Ashland into Oregon again.

"The line is not closed," he said. "The line is open for business."

In 2008, shippers balked when CORP boosted its rates and cut its number of trains, and freight stopped running over the line. The rail line, which traverses the Siskiyous, and is sometimes covered with snow in winter, has not been a money-maker for CORP.

Hefley said that for the moment freight haulers still aren't willing to pay the freight costs. Local shippers have accused the railroad company of being interested only in its larger, more profitable lines, and of giving short shrift to rural lines and the communities they serve.

A coalition of shippers, including timber products firms, have been in negotiations with the railroad, but at last word were stymied on the railroad's demand that the shippers help finance repairs to the line and tunnels that have deteriorated since the closure.

A tunnel connecting the rail line from Oregon to California was closed in 2003 because of a fire. Extensive work was done on the tunnel, which reopened in 2004.

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.