By Ron Brown
NEAR ASHLAND, Ore. — It’s been 57 years since passenger trains rolled through the Rogue Valley and 60 years since they carried passengers over the Siskiyou Pass. Now, with federal funding pledged to help overhaul the Siskiyou Line for freight service, some Rogue Valley residents are wondering: why not add passenger service?
Weeds growing up between the ties and rails of the Central Oregon and Pacific track near Ashland are a testament to the fact that these tracks have not been used for several years now. That may change soon, thanks to $7 million in federal grant money, and other funding to upgrade the line. Now, some people are thinking that if there’s money for freight service, why not passenger service upgrades as well? It wouldn’t be cheap.
“The average train speeds, even in the best days between, we’ll just say between Roseburg and Ashland, the best train speeds were an average of 29 miles per hour,” explains Tony Johnson, with the Railway Historical Society. “And certainly we can go faster now with certain equipment. But, as far as trying to compete with I-5 for speed, it can never happen!”
“I think one of the keys to this, of course is the desirability of our politicians to put some money in and get it done!” says Former County Commissioner Ric Holt.
When he was county commissioner, Holt advocated long and hard for passenger rail service. The last over-the-mountain service was in 1952; Local service was dropped in 1955, it’s been all-freight since then. Now, some think the time has come to add passenger service to the discussion.
It’s hard to say for sure what it would take to get passenger service restored to the Rogue Valley. It’s been since 1955 since there was any kind of passenger service at all – longer than that since it went over the Siskiyou Pass.