Tuesday, March 28, 2006, Editorial • Don’t tear out the rail lines

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, March 29, 2006, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Tearing out the railroad tracks between Susanville and Flannigan, Nevada is shortsighted and bad policy. But that’s exactly what Union Pacific Railroad plans to do unless Congressman John Doolittle or Senator Diane Feinstein can stop it.

Union Pacific wants to abandon the rail line, tear up the track and sell the rails at a great profit for use in repair of existing track or to build new railroad lines.

UP abandoned the tracks between Susanville in Wendel in 1978, but allowed Sierra Pacific Industries to use the line for log shipments until the plant closed in 2005. Now that SPI is no longer shipping logs, UP wants to tear up the Susanville to Wendel tracks. A salvage company from New Castle, Calif. is already scheduled to do the work.

“They told us point blank that they would prefer to remove the track,” said Ralph Sanders of the Honey Lake Power Plant.

Sanders tried to buy the segment of line between Wendel and Flannigan in order to ship in rail cars of biomass to fuel the plant from distant locales like Portland. Sanders said it’s too expensive to transport the fuel by truck, but rail rates are much cheaper.

HLP is operating continuously at reduced load just like last year because of reduced availability of biomass fuel, Sanders said.

Since Sierra Army Depot also has a spur to the Wendel to Flannigan line, SIAD could use it as an alternative rail access for the base. SIAD Commander Lt. Col. Brian Butler said he supports giving the base the extra rail capacity. County officials said the SIAD connection could be pitched to Congress as a national security issue.

Once a rail company files to abandon a rail line with the federal Surface Transportation Board, Sanders said Congress has never once stopped the abandonment process. This morning the Board of Supervisors will discuss asking Doolittle and Feinstein for help in getting the money to buy the Wendel to Flannigan line from UP.

The board also plans to discuss submitting a rail banking application to the surface transportation board for the rail corridor from Susanville to Flannigan. Rail banking preserves the rail corridor for possible future restoration of rail service and makes the property available for use as a trail in the interim.

If local officials can’t save the tracks, they may at least be able to save the corridor. Rail service opened the West to settlement, it would be shortsighted to give up our railroad heritage without a fight.

We urge public support for Sanders’ and the supervisors’ efforts to save the rail corridor.