Coos Bay rail line Tunnel Rehabilitation
The Port of Coos Bay received funding to complete renovation and improvements on all nine of our tunnels along the Coos Bay rail line through a combination of an $11 million FAST Lane grant, $8 million in Lottery Backed Bonds, and $550,000 in Port dollars. That work is slated to begin in the third quarter of 2017, and will likely take approximately two years to complete.
The Coos Bay rail line traverses 9 tunnels over an 82-mile section between Coos Bay and Eugene. The longest tunnel on the line spans 4,200’ – nearly a mile! All of the tunnels are now 100 years old, or older. Some of the tunnels still have the original timber tunnel support structures. The project will not only include structural repairs, but also address some significant drainage issues that are present in several of our key tunnels. The tunnels and the rest of the rail line had substantial deferred maintenance prior to the Port of Coos Bay assuming ownership. This project is a significant step in preserving and maintaining the line, which ensures that Coos Bay Rail Link can continue to operate safely and effectively.
The Coos Bay Rail Line is a shortline class III railroad owned by the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay and operated through a management agreement with Coos Bay Rail Link, a division of ARG Trans, Inc. The 134-mile-long line provides connections to the North American rail network for manufacturing operations in Coos, Douglas, and Lane Counties, and for marine terminals in the Coos Bay harbor. The line began operations in 1916, passing through several owners until it was shut down in 2007 due to safety issues related to deferred maintenance. The line was acquired in a feeder line proceeding before Surface Transportation board in 2009, and was returned to service in October of 2011.
Since acquiring the line the Port of Coos Bay has invested over $31 million to restore bridges, tunnels, and rail structures after decades of neglect and deferred maintenance by the previous owners. Another $22.5 million has been committed to continue the rehabilitation efforts on the line to ensure continued service. Since restoration of service the line has seen an increase in revenue car loads from 2,480 in 2012 to a peak of 7,509 cars in 2014. Revenue loads for 2015 reached 7,341 cars, and the traffic on the line is expected to maintain at around 7,500 cars annually until additional industries are brought into service along the rail corridor.
The line traverses 9 tunnels over an 82-mile section between Coos Bay and Eugene, the longest of which covers 4,200 feet. All of the tunnels are now 100 years old or older. In some cases, the original timber tunnel support structures are still in place, with shotcrete over bedrock, steel sets with channel lagging, and gunite over steel sets (GOSS) installed in the 1950’s to 2011 in others. The general age and history of use of these tunnels, the track grade conditions through the tunnels, and the general hydrology of the Oregon coast and Coast Range mountains have caused deterioration of the tunnel and track structures, and have disrupted train operations in the past. Safety concerns over tunnel conditions was cited as the primary reason the line was shut down in 2007.
The proposed project is the final rehabilitation of the tunnels to a good operating condition, and will complete ongoing work initiated in 2010. The project combines tunnel drainage system improvements to the ditches and culverts outside tunnel portals; track and ditch work necessary to remove fouled ballast and improve drainage inside the tunnels; structural repairs and improvements to ensure structural integrity of the tunnels themselves; and some clearance improvements in tunnels with restrictions not directly associated with the tunnel portals. Project life for these improvements is expected to be 20 years of continuous operations, and the improvements will enhance safety and efficiency of train operations.
Concept designs for the tunnel drainage systems have been completed, and final design has reached the 60% phase. A wetland delineation report for the drainage system work has been completed, and permitting efforts associated with that work began in April of 2016. Construction is planned to begin in June of 2017, depending on permitting requirements and funding availability.
The overall project is currently estimated to cost $19.55 million dollars. The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay plans to fund the project through a combination of grants, loans, and revenue generated by rail line operations. The project is currently planned to complete in Fall of 2018.
Why is Rail So Important? Access to safe and reliable freight rail service on the south coast is an essential component of the economic fabric of our region. The closure of the line in 2007 had much farther reaching impacts on local businesses than most of the public truly understood. The rail customers along the line suddenly had to ship freight by truck to an inland trans load facility. At that time, the rail line had been transporting approximately 7,000 rail cars per year. Shipping by truck meant that companies were sending trucks an average of 330 miles per day to compensate. Virtually all of the shippers along the line had to reduce production, and consequently reduce jobs because of the additional cost of truck transport. Other companies delayed planned expansions because of the added shipping costs. The Port stepped in to purchase the line because it is a major economic driver for our region, and without it growth would have stymied.
We can measure the value and impact of the rail line in dollars spent and revenue cars on an annual basis, but the crux of the value of the rail line is much more significant than these numbers can truly demonstrate. The rail line supports local businesses in bringing their goods to market. These businesses employ people all along the line from Coquille to Eugene, providing family wage jobs. The rail line provides a mode of transit that is essential to attract new industrial businesses to locate here, and for businesses already operating on the South Coast to have the infrastructure they need to thrive.
Rail is important for many more reasons. For instance, did you know:
· Customers who ship via the Coos Bay rail line see substantial savings in their transportation costs, averaging $2.2 million per year.
· The rail line supports 2 positions at the Port of Coos Bay, and 15 positions at Coos Bay Rail Link
· The rail line currently serves 12 shipper facilities along the line, employing 750 people!
· The shippers directly served on the line generate over $100 million in annual economic activity
· Intermodal rail is far more environmentally friendly than shipping by truck. Rail is on average at least three times more fuel efficient than truck, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions
· Transporting goods by rail reduces road congestion and extends the life of highway systems, which reduces infrastructure maintenance costs.
· Utilizing rail in shipping reduces highway injuries and fatalities. Rail keeps people on the roadways safer.
· Trains are super cool!
The Port is committed to maintaining the Coos Bay rail line to preserve this crucial component in our transportation infrastructure. The Tunnel Rehabilitation project is exciting, because it will help to ensure that the rail line can continue to support our local economy and businesses, reduce air pollution, and preserve our road systems.