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Port hopes for rails and trails

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Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 10:32 am

The Port of Tillamook Bay is interested in turning part of the county’s railroad line into a pedestrian and bicycle path – while still keeping local excursion trains running.

While other communities have tackled “rails-to-trails” projects, the Port is looking at whether it’s possible to do both rails and trails.

No study has yet been launched to determine whether a project is possible or a good fit for Tillamook’s rail line. But Port of Tillamook Bay Manager Michele Bradley said the board does want to work with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation and Cycle Oregon to determine whether a trails project would suit the area.

“That could really be a boon here at the coast, having a trail all the way along Highway 101, basically from Wheeler,” Bradley said. “If we could make it all work, it would be fantastic. And not a dime would come out of the Port’s pocket for this.”

Though, exactly how the trail would be funded remains unknown.

“How do you pay for this? What is the scope, scale, time frame?” said ODF State Forester Doug Decker.

“This is all unknown – this is really earlier than the early stages,” he said. “There’s an opportunity, a potential here.”

Decker was invited by the Port to discuss the rails-to-trails project because the Department of Forestry owns much of the surrounding forest through which the railroad passes.

Once hauling freight six days a week from Tillamook to Hillsboro, the Port stopped operating its rail cars in December 2007 after a major storm took out portions of the rail line. In lieu of restoring use of the rail line, the Port received nearly $44 million in alternate project funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In May, a group of about 15 citizens appeared at a Port meeting, asking the Port to consider a rails-to-trails project. The idea was brought to the Port board again this month, by Economic and Small Business Development Director Dan Biggs. Recently, the Port board agreed to move forward discussing the idea.

“If it is feasible, we’ll be able to bring thousands of bikers, even more than we already do, down to the coast,” Biggs said. “If we can get the cyclists off 101, the safety is better, and all these people will be stopping, eating in local restaurants, staying in local motels. We can attract people from around the world.”

Just over a year ago, a $1.4 million rails-to-trails project was finished in nearby Banks, in Washington County.

Completed in October 2010, the car-free trail links Banks to Vernonia through forests and fields, along 21 miles of abandoned rail line. The rail ties have been removed and replaced by a paved path. Users pass over 12 bridges and a 600-foot-long, 80-foot-high railroad trestle. Decker believes there is potential to connect the Banks  trail to Tillamook County.

“One of the things that intrigued me about the project is the potential to link across the Coast Range, to create a rural and urban connection,” he said.

But in Tillamook County, the track is not completely unused. The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad operates a passenger steam train from Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach and, on special occasions, to Wheeler.

The Port owns the 101 miles of rail line and its right-of-way, which is the 15 to 200 feet of area surrounding the track. But it is in the end stages of negotiating a contract with OCSR for rights to a portion of the track.

That portion is 48 miles of rail line, from the Port to Enright, high in the Salmonberry Canyon. It certainly includes a portion of the area along Highway 101 targeted for a walking and cycling path.

“Basically, we would be the operator of the rail line,” said Scott Wickert, OCSR President, referring to pending contract with the Port. “We would assume all liability concerning the track, all liability with train operations and assume responsibility for all federal requirements.”

Bradley said she expects the Port to reach an agreement with OCSR in the next week. But she also believes there is room for both passenger trains and a rails-to-trails-type project in Tillamook County.

“Typically, with a rails-to-trails project, the rail goes away,” Bradley said. “But the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is such an economic draw to Tillamook County. If we could do a dual rail and trail, that would be the best because then we don’t lose either of those economic attributes.”

One idea is to build a path alongside a portion of the rail line right-of-way, rather than to remove the rails themselves.

Wickert said he doesn’t see a problem with building a car-free path along a portion of the rail line, as long as the rails are not replaced by the path.

“I think taking the tracks out completely would be an extremely poor decision,” Wickert said. “We’re bringing in a for-sure tourism base and I think it would be a really bad thing, especially for Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach.”

Wickert said the historic train excursions brought 13,000 riders to the county this year.

“Those people eat, buy gas, stay at local hotels,” he said. “Our ridership is just going to keep on increasing.”

Decker emphasized that the rails-to-trails idea is still in the early steps in the timeline.

“I understand it’s a huge undertaking, a massive task,” he said. “The next steps would be a meeting in the new year with the organizations that the Port has invited to the table, to begin to think about what a (feasibility) study might look like.”

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Welcome to the discussion.

8 comments:

  • banik posted at 4:54 am on Wed, Jul 31, 2013.

    banik Posts: 186

    They should conduct a study to find out the feasibility of their plan. If the finding is positive then they should immediately start the project. It would become one of the popular tourist spot for summer trips.

     
  • Snowman posted at 1:11 am on Mon, Sep 17, 2012.

    Snowman Posts: 13

    This new railway project will help you attract more tourists because sightseeing will become rather easy and people like that. Hope you agree with me on this matter. Good luck for the future to come!!

     
  • Garibaldi House Inn posted at 1:57 pm on Sat, Dec 17, 2011.

    Garibaldi House Inn Posts: 3

    The statement by Judy that “people get out of their cars get on the train come back and get back in their cars and leave” is simply not an accurate perception. The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad brings thousands of dollars of business each year to my hotel and to many other local businesses in Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach. They also enhance the Garibaldi experience of many of the thousands of guests that my hotel brings into the area each year, helping to give these visitors reason to come back again and again.

    Our research indicates that a visitor will spend approximately $4 elsewhere in the community for every $1 they spend at our hotel. National statistics document that a tourist dollar brought into the area will cycle through the local economy up to six times.

    Tourism could and should be one of the major economic drivers for our county, and the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad has the potential to be one of the top three or four tourist attractions in the area. I do not believe the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is achieving even 10% of its potential at this time, but working to get it to the next level is a goal we should all be willing to pitch in and help them achieve. Their development has also been slowed by the difficulty of getting a long-term deal negotiated with the Port of Tillamook Bay. As they move past that roadblock, it is reasonable to expect that their economic impact on the area will grow rapidly.

    The people who operate this non-profit railroad are truly engaged in a labor of love, and they provide a tremendous service to our area. Our community owes them a great debt for what they are doing here. We also owe a lot to a select group of long-time residents who are providing major financial support and important business guidance.

    Judy is the first person in Garibaldi that I have heard complain about the railroad in the two years that I have been here, and I have heard many, many residents express appreciation for what OCSR is doing for the area. I hope we can all work together to help them do more and more.

     
  • Shirley25 posted at 7:27 pm on Mon, Dec 12, 2011.

    Shirley25 Posts: 1

    Ever thought about how much OCSR must spend on fuel for the locomotives with oil prices these days. What about liability insurance? What about all the other expences it takes to run those old trains? Seriously, how many of us get to keep all of our income? We all pay for housing, transportation, food, medical, ect. Businesses have expenses also. I have been on the train several times over the last couple years and most passengers are on vacations that require staying in hotels or RV parks, eating in restaurants, purchasing snacks and ice cream from the various places in Garibaldi or Rockaway not to mention the trinkets they purchase as souvenires. The train gives people another reason to stop in Garibaldi and Rockaway!

     
  • Justin Aufdermauer posted at 9:51 pm on Tue, Nov 29, 2011.

    Justin Aufdermauer Posts: 96

    The OCSR has the potential to be a huge economic impact for the County if it can run from the Port to Wheeler. There a cross promotions program being built right now that is to take these attractions that we have in the area and tie them together to incline visitors to stay or return because of the offerings. There is a tourism multiplier effect on every dollar spent. Tourism is the worlds largest industry by far and to state that they get in their cars and leave and do not spend any more money is not even close to the truth. I encourage all to research the multiplier effect that I am talking about. Judy, it is obvious there is a personal issue that you have with OSCR and so I am writing this only to inform readers. False information is a killer of growth. P.S.- I am looking into this, but rip that track up and that 4m that Mr. Dove spoke so openly about, I believe, goes back to FEMA, it doesn't get to get spent by the Port in any way.

     
  • alice posted at 8:39 am on Mon, Nov 28, 2011.

    alice Posts: 61

    Judy makes very good points about the train and its varying impact on the communities. Her views help me understand more about what might become a big issue. I really like that about her comments.

     
  • Oldjohn posted at 4:23 pm on Sat, Nov 26, 2011.

    Oldjohn Posts: 1

    It would appear judy4648 would be well served to learn the difference between "there" and "their".

     
  • judy4648 posted at 3:50 pm on Fri, Nov 25, 2011.

    judy4648 Posts: 2

    You said you had 13,000 people this year X $15.00 Per Head = $195,000. Plus $70.00 Per Head for the dinner train I would say you were the ones making the money not Garibaldi or Rockaway. The people get out of there cars get on the train come back get back in there cars and leave. They do not spend there money here. You have a half hour before the train leaves. I would say how much money could anyone spend. They are just passer byes. The OCSR has no consideration for others. They park the train in front of a house, park in front of another business so no one even knows that business is there. All they care about is themselves not the community. Sell those tracks for the 4 million and put in a path without the train. Once they have there way they can do what ever they want.

     

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