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Rail cars are gone, but more may come

By now I expect you have heard that those "center beam" rail cars (discussed in Thursday's Since You Asked column) left Ashland on Jan. 17. And, all the residents of Ashland are now able to trespass through the rail yard. I see in your paper that the city of Ashland is installing a brand new play structure in Lithia Park, probably to take the place of the "jungle gym" that the rail cars once provided.

— Bob P., Ashland

Excuse us for a moment, Bob, while we pause to wipe the egg off our faces. You are right; the rail cars that have been parked on an Ashland siding for about three years are gone. Which makes our Thursday column about why they are parked there a bit moot (OK, more than a bit).

In fairness to our intrepid SYA reporter, he did speak with a railroad official about the rail cars and got a long explanation about why they were parked there. Except they weren't parked there when he gave us the information. So we're mailing him some leftover egg to apply to his own face.

Others in Ashland may want to send him a few rotten eggs after they hear this news: The rail cars may be gone, but Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad is actively looking for more cars to replace them. Turns out, the rail cars are not parked there merely for convenience, but also to make a buck.

Steve Hefley, general manager of CORP, says since the company 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.

Since there are up to 50,000 idle rail cars in the nation, it's likely the tracks will once again be blocked by cars.

Hefley said the best hope for those unhappy about the cars' presence lies with the Oregon Department of Transportation, which may apply for federal funding to rehabilitate the rail lines and tunnels in the Siskiyous. That could get the trains running again through Ashland and cause the parked cars to be moved.

Despite the numerous complaints received by the city of Ashland about the rail cars, a city official said the city has no plans to fight the effort to bring more cars in. The tracks belong to the railroad and there is no legal recourse to stop them being used as a parking lot. Many of the complaints came because the cars blocked walkers from crossing the tracks, but the city official noted that walking on the tracks is actually considered trespassing, so that argument doesn't hold much water.

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.