Swing Span Bridge Repairs

A work barge floats alongside the disabled section of the Coos Bay Rail Line swing span bridge in Coos Bay. The bridge, which has interrupted travel on the line for more than a year is scheduled to be reopen for testing April 23.

COOS BAY — Folks around Coos Bay and North Bend will see the familiar sight of freight cars moving along the bay for the first time since part of the rail line was shut down over a year ago due to the failure of the swing span bridge that connects North Bend to the North Spit.

The bridge failed to complete its rotation last April, and has been out of service ever since.

This disabled swing span bridge along the Coos Bay Rail Line pictured from the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Orcas during a tour of Coos…

According to the International Port of Coos Bay, the Coos Bay swing span bridge will be ready to open to rail traffic on April 23. However, the port is currently awaiting the arrival of a ship which is currently scheduled to be in the harbor between April 24 and April 26.

The bridge also must undergo a three day testing period before rail traffic can be allowed to pass.

“Since the swing span bridge will need to be in the open to rail traffic position for about three days we will wait until the ship has safely docked in the upper bay before we move it,” Port of Coos Bay spokesperson Margret Barber said.

Barber said the first order of business now that the bridge is operational will be to move the rail cars that have been stationed in downtown Coos Bay to the Union Pacific yard in Eugene. After the three day final testing period, the bridge will be able to opened and closed to rail traffic as needed and be back in normal service.

Since the bridge failure a year ago the Port of Coos Bay has spent $3.5 million to repair the 100-year-old swing span.

The Port of Coos Bay would like to remind the community that the Coos Bay Rail Line south of the Coos Bay Swing Span Bridge is active, this includes maintenance vehicles, rail locomotives and rail cars. The port urges the public to stay safe and stay clear from railroad tracks.

Additional work is planned to further improve safety and functionality of bridge. That work will be supported by a $20 million federal grant that the Port received through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program. 

While the bridge was being renovated the port established a temporary intermodal yard for businesses that operate south of the bridge to truck in products and transfer them onto the corresponding rail route.

Last week one of the businesses operating south of the swing span, Georgia Pacific, announced that it was closing its Coos Bay mill. A decision that will put 111 people locally out of work. The Port of Coos Bay expressed that it was saddened by the Georgia Pacific’s announcement that it was closing, and said the news of its closure is regrettable.

“The outage of the swing span bridge did have an impact on Georgia Pacific getting their product to market.  Despite the best efforts of a number of stakeholders to find an interim solution with the establishment of a temporary transload facility on the North Spit there was an increase in the overall cost to ship for Georgia Pacific,” Barber said.

According to Georgia Pacific around 70 percent of products it produced in Coos Bay were shipped to markets through the railroad.

“It was a very efficient lumber facility for some time. With 70 percent of the product going out by rail that adds an additional cost that you don’t need, and that your competing lumber facilities probably don’t have,” Rick Kimble with Georgia Pacific said.

Unfortunately, the opening of the swing span bridge does not change anything for Georgia Pacific, as there were some other contributing factors to its closure.

“The market for raw material, which in this case would be logs, in that area is very competitive. That makes the price of the logs much higher…If you’ve got other facilities in other wood baskets where you’re not paying the higher prices, then those are going to be your facilities that you lean to in order to keep going,” Kimble said.

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Nicholas A. Johnson can be reached at 541-266-6049, or by email at nicholas.johnson@theworldlink.com.