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State Pushes to Keep PRCC Rail Line

by Hillary Hamm
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, December 27, 2003

Washington State Department of Transportation officials hope to have an agreement in place by July 1 that would allow the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad to maintain operations.

The agreement between WSDOT and Kansas-based PRCC owners Watco Companies Inc., would put future maintenance in the hands of the state.

During the legislative session, Washington lawmakers committed $33 million to revive the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad.

WSDOT Rail Services Manager Stephen Anderson said the 10-year project, which is part of the $4.16 billion transportation funding package approved this year, will allow the state to buy the line, right of way and make much-needed repairs.

Watco has been financially unable to fully maintain the Palouse region railway, including an inability to replace deteriorating rails and ties. Trains have to travel at slower speeds to ensure safety on the aging lines.

Tracks of interest in the 264-mile PRCC line include Pullman to Hooper, Pullman to Marshall, Thornton to Winona and Coulee City to Cheney.

"If you don't do regular maintenance, the final maintenance of the lines will bury you," Anderson said. "Watco has verified that they have put some maintenance into the track ...but it's hard for a private company to maintain it on its own."

Anderson said WSDOT officials are working with Watco owners to develop a plan so the line can continue to operate. An agreement must be reached regarding cost and the detail of work that will be needed.

Watco will resume operation of the rail and, after the program ends, the company will pick up some maintenance costs, while the state will own rights to the track, he said.

"From here on, the public has a vested interest in how this track is going to be maintained," Anderson said.

Six-million dollars will be allotted for the first two years of the project, with roughly $3 million spent each year for the remainder of the program.

The July 1 date was chosen so construction could begin in 2004.

"We would like to get this done as quickly as we can," he said. "We have a desire to get everything concluded for the summer season."

A handful of studies conducted in the last year have shown that the 264-mile PRCC is an essential part of the eastern Washington agriculture economy, Anderson said. The rail moves more than $160 million in goods each year and provides competition to truck and barge service that keep costs down.

Palouse Grain Growers Manager Bruce Baldwin said the PRCC is an important factor in his business.

A small company, Palouse Grain Growers relies on the rail to move wheat and barley to Portland, Ore., and down the West Coast. Baldwin said the company filled more than 100 cars with wheat and barley in 2003.

"The train is our tool for keeping that stuff separate for the market," he said.

Baldwin said he worries about what would happen to farmers and his business if the PRCC ceased to exist.

"It's a grave concern," he said of the deteriorating line. "Without a way to move grain to market, there's not much reason to farm."

Anderson said the Legislature responded in the correct way and just in time to save the line. Historically, the state has set aside money for highway, airlines and waterways but not much for rail.

"They decided that they did want to fund it and they want to keep it around because it's an important transportation artery," he said. "We think the Legislature thinks this is a pretty important project."

Related Sites:
Washington Department of Transportation Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad Acquisition

Hillary Hamm
State Pushes to Keep PRCC Rail Line
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, December 27, 2003

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