Nonprofit seeking owner/operator for East Marion line in anticipation of abandonment filing

by: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - A Willamette Valley Railway train chugs east out of Woodburn Monday morning. The state has been informed that Willamette Valley and Union Pacific could file paperwork to abandon the East Marion line, which runs from Woodburn to Stayton.Business and community leaders, along with members of the public, met with representatives of the Salem-based nonprofit Cascade Community Railway Inc. last week to discuss the future of the East Marion rail line.

The line, which runs from Woodburn to Stayton, is leased by Willamette Valley Railway and owned by Union Pacific, but both companies are considering filing to abandon the railway, according to Cascade. The Oregon Department of Transportation, rail division, was verbally advised regarding the potential abandonment petition in April, but no paperwork has yet been officially filed.

A?number of Woodburn community leaders attended the meeting and are involved in the effort to save the line from abandonment, including Mayor Kathy Figley, who serves as the secretary of the Cascade board, and Frank Scheer, curator of the historic, city-owned No. 1785 steam locomotive.

“ODOT Rail has been working with Cascade Community Railway to prepare an appropriate response to the National Service Transportation Board (NTSB) in the event they move forward with the filing,” a prepared statement from Cascade said. “ODOT is committed to preserving Oregon’s transportation infrastructure as its first priority.”

Since the news that the line may be filed for abandonment, a letter writing campaign has been initiated to urge the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to convert the railway to a trails project through its “rails to trails” program, while shippers (including Stayton-based RedBuilt and Aumsville-based Modern Building Systems) have written to ODOT expressing their desire to use the line.

Information disseminated by Cascade at last week’s meeting indicated that transporting freight coast to coast by truck can cost up to twice as much as rail.

“The economy will continue to fluctuate, but keeping a rail line offers our local communities and businesses, including agriculture, a competitive edge in terms of cost of goods,” the statement read. “Some envision this rail line becoming part of an agricultural shipping hub for the area.”

There has not been significant rail service south of Silverton since 2012 due to a slide that occurred in the Macleay area. Cascade, which had — up until that point — partnered with Willamette Valley Railway to maintain and eventually purchase the line, offered to help secure a grant to repair the damage for the slide.

Cascade received approval from the Oregon Transportation Commission for a 75-percent matching grant for the $60,000 project, but Willamette Valley opted not to take advantage. When the organization learned about the potential abandonment, it severed its ties with Willamette Valley and began seeking “an owner and operator vested in the long-term viability of the line.”

Cascade believes Union Pacific would be interested in selling the line, or possibly selling the fixtures and donating the land to a nonprofit or public agency. Cascade is considering the possibility of mounting a capital campaign and undertaking a study to determine potential operating costs.

Scheer said he was impressed by the attendance at the meeting and the strength of the support for the railway.

“About 50 representatives of business and government were there, and they are pretty unanimously opposed to the abandonment,” he said. “People want to ship on that line and they haven’t been able to do it.”

He said the tourism opportunities that would come with a nonprofit or public agency assuming ownership could also be a major boon to the area.

For more information, contact Dan Hoynacki at 503-551-3455 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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