COOS BAY — Car horns, snapshots and smiles welcomed the first locomotive in five years into town.
Friday morning, a Coos Bay Rail Link engine crossed the Coos Bay Rail Bridge and slowly made its way through town, eventually stopping beside U.S. Highway 101 in the Coos Bay rail yard.
“That was too much attention,” a smiling Randy King said. The engineer had just hopped off the locomotive, stopped in the rail yard. Right away, a small group gathered to take pictures of the bright blue engine.
The locomotive will remain parked in the yard over the weekend, said Elise Hamner, spokeswoman for the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay.
The rail line through town is not yet officially open to trains. CBRL plans to use the locomotive to bring in construction material and equipment into town to do repairs on the line.
“The railroad wanted to run its equipment across before it sent contractors across,” Hamner said.
It’s unclear when rehabilitation work will officially begin, Hamner added.
Since the railroad has been closed for five years, workers manned each intersection in town Friday to ensure equipment worked properly and people followed safety procedures.
“It’s the first train, so we have to be out there flagging at all the crossings,” Hamner said. “We’ve got to make sure everyone is safe.”
Rail lines in town have been empty since Sept. 2007, when the railroad between Eugene and Coos Bay closed. The coastal railway corridor’s previous owners cited deferred maintenance issues shortly before abandoning it. So, the port bought the derelict railway and began raising funds for its repair. So far, the port has raised about $30 million in state and federal money for rehabilitation work.
Although the work is still underway, the port reopened the line between Eugene and the North Spit in October 2011. The port eventually plans to restore service to Coquille.
“People will see more and more action as (work) crews move this way,” Hamner said.
Now that activity on the railroad is starting up, the port reminds everyone that it is against federal law to trespass on railroad tracks, except at designated public crossings.
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.