As area lawmakers who helped forge the plan looked on, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that lays out a process to complete the sale to the state of the tracks, properties and operating rights for the CW (Cheney to Coulee City) branch of the three lines that together comprise the 372-mile short-line railway.
The railway runs between Coulee City and Moscow, Idaho. Keeping it open has been a nearly round-the-clock project for 9th District Rep. David Buri, who said the governor's action marked the achievement of one of the 9th District legislative team's top priorities for the 2007 session of the Legislature.
"This small railroad is a critical transportation link for farmers and growers, and a key component for future economic development in the area," said Buri, R-Colfax. "Agriculture is a key part of our state and regional economy, so it's not an overstatement that we believe keeping the grain-hauling trains running is a legitimate and worthy investment for the citizens of Washington."
Buri also credited his 9th District legislative colleagues, Rep. Steve Hailey and Sen. Mark Schoesler, and Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, for their commitment and "tireless work" during months of meetings, talks and behind-the-scenes negotiations to help bring the final pieces together.
"Because of higher fuel costs, it's important to give farmers another alternative than just trucking to move their crops and other goods to markets or processing plants," said Schoesler, R-Ritzville and ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee. "Today's action will help keep the short-line railroad in operation, which will benefit our region's agriculture industry and possibly help diversify the economy in the West Plains area."
Hailey noted that the railway provides a lifeline to farmers and other businesses in remote Palouse towns.
"Wheat farmers and other growers rely on the railroad to affordably ship their crops, but lots of other businesses such as seed companies and farm chemical dealers also use it to get their products to their customers. I'm very pleased that we're able to provide assurances to those people in the ag community that depend on the railroad that it's going to be there for them in the long term," said Hailey, R-Mesa. "People from both sides of the aisle have come together to get this done, and it's been a great effort by everyone involved."
The PR&CCR network is composed of three branch lines: the CW, the P&L and the PV Hooper. The CW branch runs from Cheney to Coulee City; the P&L extends from Marshall to Pullman; and the PV Hooper branch runs from Thornton to Winona and Hooper, and from the Idaho border through Pullman to Winona and Hooper.
The state Department of Transportation completed the purchase of the P&L and PV Hooper branches in September 2005. But negotiations to purchase the CW branch hit a roadblock, and owner WATCO, citing maintenance costs and debt, stopped operations on the branch that November. The company resumed service in August 2006.
The MOU specifies that May 31, 2007 will be the last day that WATCO will operate the CW and P&L lines. The company will continue to operate the PV Hooper line due to contracts they hold with the Union Pacific Railroad.
Still to be decided is whether the state or a new private operator will manage the CW and P&L lines' day-to-day operations