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Economic and dam related articles

Railroad Rehab

by Carrie Chicken of the Union-Bulletin
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, June 30, 2005

Among reasons the state cites for the work is lower costs than shipping by truck or barge.

The former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt suggests using money for restoration efforts to create alternatives to the current system of dams DAYTON - The state Department of Transportation is willing to spend millions of dollars to rehabilitate the Port of Columbia Railroad to reduce wear and tear on state highways by truck traffic.

The investment over the next eight years will include replacing rails that wriggle like limp spaghetti through Dayton's industrial area on the east side of town. Work could begin by this fall to improve and extend the rail yard at a cost of about $270,000.

The state has also funded $5.13 million from the 2003 Legislature transportation package for improvements to the Port of Columbia Railroad (also known as the Blue Mountain Railroad).

That rehabilitation project is expected to begin in 2008 and is scheduled for completion in 2013.

The rail yard extension will give the railroad the capability to load and ship logs from property owned by Broughton Land Co.

Some of the rails in the yard are made of 54-pound steel, a grade of metal used on rail lines prior to 1890, according to Port Manager Gene Turner. They will be replaced with 90-pound rails. Other upgrades include removing unused track and replacing ties and ballast.

With Seneca Foods closing its asparagus packing plant, the railway is losing one of its large shippers. However, Seneca will continue to ship dry peas and seed peas, which average more than 100 cars per year, Turner said.

In the past, Seneca has shipped as many as 250 cars of canned asparagus, according to Turner.

The extension of the rail line to Broughton's property could add about two cars per week of logs to the train, Turner said.

The Port of Columbia Railroad is owned by the Port, while the rolling stock is operated by the Blue Mountain Railroad.

The improvements to rail lines in the local area are part of a larger project to retain rail service in Eastern Washington.

To that end, the state Department of Transportation bought nearly 300 miles of rail right of way from WATCO Inc., a short line railroad holding company based in Pittsburg, Kan.

WATCO will remain the leased operator, operating as Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad (PCC Railroad), which serves businesses in Whitman, Lincoln, Grant, Spokane, Columbia and Walla Walla counties.

Companies that use the railroad include Columbia County Grain Growers, Broughton Land Co., and Northwest Grain Growers in Prescott and Waitsburg.

The state DOT justifies the outlay to support the rail lines on several fronts:

Carrie Chicken of the Union-Bulletin
Railroad Rehab
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, June 30, 2005

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