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Fire danger pushes trains into night runs

Because of extreme fire hazards, the train running through Ashland, between Weed and Eugene, will be making the twice-daily trip at the night, when humidity and fire-starting spark dangers are much lower. But it will mean some area residents will hear train noise during the night until fire danger diminishes.

“The reasons for switching operations to nighttime are simple,” says Colestin Rural Fire District Chief Steve Avgeris. “In the daytime, humidity is down and temperatures are up and that’s very dangerous, as sparks can fly out of exhaust on top of locomotives. Doing it at night dramatically reduces risk.”

The new schedule for the trains, which travel the length of the Colestin Valley in Northern California, will start next week, likely on Monday. Trains run weekdays, carrying wood products to mills in Southern Oregon and Northern California, then hauling empty cars back north to repeat the journey. The local nighttime disturbance will usually come on the northbound run between 10 p.m. and midnight, he said.

In fire weather, trains are required to pull a 10,000-gallon water car behind the locomotive, with pump-driven sprays that humidify the air as well as shoot water back and forth on tracks, said Avgeris. A firefighter is required to follow trains in a pickup truck that glides along rails.

Colestin resident Tod Davies said she saw the train running in the afternoon last week with no water car or fire fighter, prompting calls to rail and forestry bosses.

“I think if Ashland understands really how serious the fire danger is when the trains run during the day, it may make it easier for the people on the train’s path to support that option--even if it’s the sleep disturbing one.” said Davies. “There’s nothing like level 3 evacuations to disturb sleep!”

In the past, when trains were put on night schedules, Ashland residents complained about being awakened by the noise, so Avgeris said, “Please be patient. We don’t need any more big fires and this is one way to stop them from happening.”