Friday, June 18, 2010

Rail Service Cut Could Make Beverly Lonlier

From the "Spokane Chronicle."

March 4, 1980

Its lonely along the Milwaukee Railroad tracks in this Columbia River community southwest of Moses Lake, and Haynes Gearhart fears it could get much lonelier if the few trains that now pass through stop running.

Gearhart, a Wahluke Slope farmer who operates a $600,000 grain elevator, fears being out in the hinterlands could mean he'll be overlooked in plans to split up the bankrupt Milwaukee Road's lines.

This part of the Columbia Basin needs rail service as much as the Othello-Moses Lake area, he said.

"I feel like the guy on a limb with someone working at sawing you off," he said.

His grain elevator is on a short spur adjacent to the mainline Milwaukee track just before it crosses the Columbia a few miles downstream from Vantage.

Only two trains a day pass through Beverly, one going east, the other west.

The Milwaukee Road suspended service last Saturday on nearly half its 9,500-mile system.

Planned layoffs of employees in the affected areas have been delayed until cleanup operations have been completed.

Meanwhile, workers have been awaiting a federal court ruling on possible New Milwaukee Lines takeover of the western track. A favorable ruling could allow about 5,000 workers in the West to keep their jobs.

Gearhart says he doesn't think New Milwaukee's chances are too good, so he's trying to convince the Burlington Northern that any plans to take over part of the Columbia Basin operations should involve Beverly, despite the 38-mile haul from Othello.

"I think Royal City is in the same boat as we are and also should be considered," Gearhart said.

He said Beverly and Royal City will grow because of increased farm development, especially on the Wahluke Slope.

Burlington Northern years ago competed with Milwaukee to bring rail service to the sloe but never got any farther than Basin City.

"They are never going to build that line now and taking over the Milwaukee would be the best way to serve the slope, which is starting to move now," Gearhart said.

His firm, which ships wheat, corn and barley, averages 30 cars a month with more than 300 cars in 1979.

"In two years that total could double," he said.

Royal City also ships about 300 cars annually.

Gearhart sees the potential growth from either a potato packing shed or a fruit shed.

The Washington State Department of Transportation agrees with Gearhart on keeping rail service and has designated the Columbia Basin railroad lines essential. That qualifies the Milwaukee tracks for federal assistance.

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