On September 21, 2007, rail service on the Coos Bay rail line, then owned and operated by the Central Oregon & Pacific (CORP) Railroad was embargoed from Vaughn in Lane County to the North Spit of lower Coos Bay. The closure impacted Georgia-Pacific and several other rail shippers in the region. Additionally, CORP discontinued service on rail spurs serving Roseburg Forest Products in Coquille, Southport Forest Products on the North Spit, and American Bridge on Bolon Island near Reedsport. CORP cited safety concerns in three tunnels on the line as the primary reason for the embargo, and later commented and confirmed that the line also had a backlog of deferred maintenance. The loss of freight rail service forced commodity shippers on the line to shift to trucking at much higher costs.
The Port, acting in the best interests of the south coast communities and companies served by the rail line, took action at the direction of the Port’s Board of Commissioners and moved ahead with acquisition of the rail line through a Feeder Line Application (FLA) action before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. Financing of the acquisition was supported by a loan package administered by the Oregon Economic & Community Development Department. At the time the FLA was filed, CORP also sought abandonment of the Coos Bay line. Granting of abandonment action could have resulted in loss of the rail corridor between Eugene and Coos County.
The Port finalized the acquisition of the 111 miles of the CORP Coos Bay rail line in March 2009, and immediately applied for federal stimulus funding available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The Port was successful in acquiring a $2.5 million grant award, which was used for high-priority tunnel rehabilitation. That work was completed in fall 2010. Port staff pursued additional federal and state funding for continued rehabilitation of the Coos Bay line.
In August 2010, the Oregon Transportation Commission awarded the Port $7.8 million through the ConnectOregon III program for repairs to the rail line’s three swing bridges and upgrades for trestles. The Port also was successful in obtaining a $13.5 million Tiger II Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant in October 2010. The funds have allowed the Port to rehabilitate rail, ties, ballast and other track components with the goal of having freight trains travel at efficient speeds between 25 and 40 mph. Finally, the Port will be using an estimated $528,000 from the Oregon Department of Transportation to fund replacement of signal electronics at seven mainline crossings to improve safety.
Coos Bay rail line re-opens
The Port re-opened the first 111 miles of rail line between Eugene and North Bend in October 2011. It then restored service to the final 23 miles of line from North Bend to Coquille in April 2013.
The Port has contracted with ARG Trans, a shortline railroad operator, to provide service along the entire 134-mile rail line, including Coos Bay's North Spit, connecting regional manufacturers to the nation's rail system at Eugene. The operating name for the rail line is Coos Bay Rail Link, with a reporting mark of CBR. Since the line re-opened, CBR has served 13 customers moving inbound and outbound wood products, steel, aggregate, mineral ore and dairy feed.
Continuation of freight rail service on the Coos Bay rail line is essential for future diversification of the cargoes moving through the Coos Bay harbor and for support of existing and future industrial operations and corresponding job retention and creation in the south coast region.