September 17, 2021
The Coos Bay Rail Line (CBRL) is a shortline class III railroad owned and operated by the Port of Coos Bay. 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. 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 Coos Bay Rail Line traverses nine tunnels over an 82-mile section between Coos Bay and Eugene. The tunnels range in length from 477 feet to 4,177 feet. The tunnels were constructed prior to the opening of the line in August of 1916 and are now over 100 years old. Prior to the project, most of the tunnels had the original Port Orford Cedar timber structural supports. The project included structural repairs and aided in mitigating drainage issues that have been affecting the operation of the line. The tunnels and the rest of the rail line had substantial deferred maintenance prior to the Port acquiring ownership. This project is a significant step in preserving and maintaining the line, which ensures that the Port can continue to operate the rail line safely and effectively and connect local shippers to the national rail network to maintain the continued production of Coos Bay products.
The Port of Coos Bay received funding to complete renovation on all nine of our tunnels along the Coos Bay Rail Line. The project was done in two phases. Phase I Tunnel Rehabilitation was funded by the FASTLANE grant, ODOT’s ConnectOregon V grant, and IFA Loan. Phase II Tunnel Rehabilitation was funded through the ODOT Lottery Bond and FASTALNE grants. The Port provided matching funds for both phases. That work started in May 2018 and was completed in December 2020.
In some cases, the original timber tunnel support structures were 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 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 project is the final rehabilitation of the tunnels to a good operating condition, and completes 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.
The overall project was approximately $19.55 million dollars. The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay funded the project through a combination of grants, loans, and revenue generated by rail line operations.
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 and reopen 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 19 positions at the Port of Coos Bay
- The rail line currently serves 12 shipper facilities along the line, employing 1,000 people!
- The shippers directly served on the line generate over $500 million in annual economic activity
- ·ntermodal 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 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.