Consider all options for rail line

By Observer editorial January 25, 2013 09:30 am

It may not be time yet to pull the rails on the Wallowa Union Railroad short-line railroad owned by Wallowa County and Union County.

But it is time to seriously consider all the options for the cash-strapped railroad. For example, can the rails co-exist with a rails-to-trails path following the same course? Will either be a money maker? Can we get state parks help to make rails to trails a reality? 

The Wallowa Union Railroad Authority board is looking to set short- and long-term goals for the railroad line that is once again without a contract operator. The railroad operates freight and Eagle Cap Excursion Trains over a 62.58-mile stretch of the former Union Pacific Railroad line from Elgin to Joseph.

Sierra Nevada and Pacific owned by Court Hammond is officially out as contractor. Hammond, who was hired last year to run excursions, had his contract terminated. With SNAP gone, the board is looking to formulate a new long-term strategic plan. 

The excursion schedule this summer will likely be abbreviated. A new schedule will be announced within a couple of weeks.

A lot of money has been invested into the train. A $1 million ConnectOregon III grant paid for construction of a multi-model transit hub in Elgin. It features a 2,400-square foot building, a parking lot, a railroad siding and a bus garage. 

Several other ideas are floating around to keep the train running. They include a railroad interpretive center or a living history museum along the line. Friends of the Joseph Branch, a group of volunteers that has supported the railroad since Union and Wallowa counties acquired it 10 years ago, would like to re-open talks with the state parks department about building a hiking or bike path alongside the tracks. 

All options deserve serious consideration.