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Since You Asked: Trains could roll through Ashland again next fall

Are trains going to be running through Ashland next year? Who regulates the maximum speed and what is the speed? 

— Dave H., Ashland

It's been a quiet time for railroad lovers in southern Jackson County, but thanks to a $7 million U.S Transportation Department grant, you can expect for trains to roll again by this time next year.

We contacted Bob Melbo, a state rail planner for Oregon Dept. of Transportation told us track, tunnel and bridge work will begin in few months leading to the reopening of the Siskiyou Line over the summit and restoring access between Oregon and California.

So you should see Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad trains winding through town by next fall.

As to how fast those cars will rumble through Ashland, the Federal Railroad Administration regulates maximum speed based on track quality and maintenance. A Class 1 track is the lowest quality and maximum freight train speed may not exceed 10 mph. On Class 2 tracks, freight trains can go 25 mph. On a Class 3 track, it is 40 mph, and so on.

Melbo tells us, higher classes of track cost more money to maintain.

"It’s kind of like the difference between a city street and a freeway," he said. "The latter is built to higher standards for faster travel and costs more to maintain than a residential street."

For lesser-used lines, such CORP, Melbo said, there isn’t sufficient economic justification to maintain tracks beyond Class 2 or 3.

While federal regulators set set the maximum speed, rail companies often operate slower for other reasons. The most recent information posted for Ashland, pegs the speed at 20 mph, Melbo said. "The same speed limit observed by Southern Pacific for decades beforehand."

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