September 10, 1996.
More than 400 miles of railroad lines critical to the export of Inland Northwest wheat and lumber were sold Monday to buyers from Florida and Kansas.
Lines west and south of Spokane and north of Wenatchee were sold by Fort Worth, Texas-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. as part of the company's nationwide move to unload thousands of miles of lightly used track.
Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad Inc., a newly created company affiliated with Pittsburgh, Kan.-based WATCO shortline railroad and locomotive repair firm, purchased 277 miles of track from Coulee City, Wash., to Arrow, Idaho.
Cascade and Columbia River Railroad Co., a subsidiary of RailAmerica Inc., a Boca Rotan, Fla.based short line company, bought another 131-mile line that runs from Wenatchee to Oroville.
Terms of both sales were not disclosed.
But officials from the companies promised no disruption of service that delivers carloads of wheat, lumber and other products to major BN lines connecting to the ports of Seattle and Portland.
"For the farmer, this is real critical," said Kevin Whitehall, assistant manager of the Central Washington Grain Growers, which operates seven rail loading facilities along the Coulee City line. "It's cheaper to ship by rail than truck. If we had to ship everything out by truck, farmers would have to pay for it."
BN offered the lines for sale earlier in the year, triggering speculation that it would abandon the track if no buyers stepped forward.
Jim Jackson, a rail expert with the Washington state Department of Transportation, had estimated that theCoulee City and Palouse lines alone would cost $9 million to $15 million. At that price, he said, few shortlines could afford to keep the lines open.
Rick Webb, president of WATCO and the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad, was unavailable for comment. Company officials at WATCO headquarters in Kansas said the company is opening an office in Colfax.
The Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad will operate 108-miles of track from Coulee City to Cheney; 122 miles from Marshall, Wash., to Arrow and 47 miles from Palouse, Wash., to Bovill, Idaho.
A segment of track from Moscow to Arrow has been out of service since 1984. A spokesman said it was unlikely the line would reopen soon.
The Northcentral Washington short line is the first acquisition in the West for Columbia River Railroad, which has an office in Omak, Wash. The line hauls wood chips, lumber, plywood, ground limestone, wheat and frozen foods.
A company spokeswoman said the line should generate $3.5 million in annual revenue. In a statement, RailAmerica chief executive officer Gary Marino said "we are confident that we can significantly increase the traffic base on this line."
The Wenatchee-to-Oroville line is the ninth railroad acquired and operated by RailAmerica. The company operates more than 600 miles of track in the Midwest and South, the company said.