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The World: Rail closure boosts diesel use
Monday 25 Aug 2008, 07:01
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad | Tags:

Remember the environmentalist cry, no dirty diesel as a reason to not support the railroad, even though they themselves use old diesel trucks. Do we really think, they will stop at just the railroad, or Pacific Lumber company? No, they will continue on.Most of our lumber is trucked out, fuel prices as a whole will go up, not down, and trucking lumber out will be too expensive. What will happen then? Loss of jobs, even their environmentally correct replacement for PL.

By Alexander Rich, Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 | 1 comment(s)

A load of finished lumber heads out of Southport Lumber crossing the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad tracks on TransPacific Lane on Friday. Without rail service, Southport and many other mills are shipping their products to markets via semi-trucks on highways, leading to increased use of diesel fuel and truck traffic on U.S. Highway 101. -World Photo by Lou Sennick

Commentors lining up for rail line hearing
Opponents of the Coos Bay rail line abandonment have said the loss of rail service hurts local business. Less concern has been expressed about the waterways and animal habitats that could be damaged if the rail line is salvaged for scrap.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board wants to change that. Over the next four weeks, it is accepting comments about the current and potential environmental damages caused by the rail line abandonment.

The STB released a preliminary environmental review Friday, which found some potential adverse impacts, though nothing serious enough to warrant greater inspection.

Increased truck traffic is the principal concern.

With the loss of rail, most South Coast companies are sending products inland on semi-trucks. STB staffers estimate that at least 150 more trucks travel the highway each day, about 4 percent of existing traffic on U.S. Highway 101.

The shift from rail to trucks also is increasing the use of diesel fuel, according to the report prepared by the STB’s Section of Environmental Analysis.

“Based on the preliminary analysis, SEA has determined that there would be some minor adverse impacts on air quality as a result of the increased truck traffic,” it said.

The figures rely on several assumptions and statistics provided by Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad. During its last full year of operation, CORP moved 4,773 railcars over the Coos Bay line, using about 305,000 gallons of diesel, the report said.

Assuming one railcar carries the same load as four trucks and all rail traffic switched to trucks, the proposed abandonment would force business to make about 38,000 trips, 19,000 to Eugene and 19,000 back, the report said. CORP estimated these trucks would burn through 832,868 gallons of diesel. The 527,868-gallon difference constitutes about a 9.7 percent increase in the amount of diesel fuel consumed annually by motor carriers in Oregon, the report said.

The STB is less concerned about environmental damage caused by the salvaging of railroad ties and rails.

“SEA does not believe that salvage activities would cause significant environmental impacts,” it said.

SEA chief Victoria Rutson said the negative impacts from the abandonment were not considered significant enough to warrant a more thorough review involving scoping meetings. She said that process would have been warranted if there were environmental impacts that couldn’t be mitigated.

The public has 30 days to comment on the environmental review. SEA staff will review those comments and produce a second document with recommendations for the STB to consider when it makes its final ruling. A decision is expected Oct. 31.

If the STB approves the abandonment, CORP will be able to remove rails and ties along the 94 miles it currently owns. There is no deadline by which time the railroad must complete its salvage work, said Christa Dean, the staffer who prepared the environmental assessment.

The proposed abandonment includes 94 miles of rail, including 17 public road crossings and 77 private road crossings. Service along the track was halted in September 2007 after CORP declared three tunnels unsafe. Since then, no trains have gone along the CORP’s line, nor have any traveled on the line it leases connecting Coos Bay and Coquille.

According to the report, CORP does not plan to remove the bridges on the line and does not expect to dredge or use fill in removing the track.

Martin Callery, director of communications and freight mobility for the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, said CORP may not plan to remove the bridges, but it may be required to do so by the U.S. Coast Guard. He said several rail bridges may be considered a public nuisance if the line it serves is abandoned. If CORP is required to pull out bridges, Callery said the port has concerns that environmental damage could occur to the Umpqua River basin.

Should the Coos Bay rail bridge be declared a public nuisance, Callery said the port would not have to pay for its removal, even though it owns it. When the port purchased the span from the Union Pacific, the contract required the railroad company to pay for a mandated bridge removal, Callery said.

Capt. Bill Devereaux, chief of the prevention division of Coast Guard District 13, could not speak specifically about bridges along the Coos Bay line, though he said Callery was right.

Bridges spanning navigable waterways must be permitted for the traffic that crosses it. Should the traffic stop, then the permit is nullified. The Coast Guard will give bridge owners leeway if they are trying to sell the bridge to another owner, but otherwise they are asked to take it out.

“If the traffic stops for any reason, then the bridge is supposed to be removed,” Devereaux said.

The SEA makes no mention of the Coast Guard’s requirements in its report. Instead, it recommends that the railroad consult with other government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, before proceeding with salvage work if the STB approves abandonment.

(Staff Writer Alexander Rich covers the Port of Coos Bay for The World. He can be reached by calling 269-1222, ext. 234; or by e-mailing to arich@theworldlink.com.)

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