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A Short Story About Short Lines

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A Short Story About Short Lines

"Our little railroad busts its engine for us." 

Gary Evans -- White City Plywood

In the early 1980s, America's railroad companies began to consolidate, selling or abandoning unprofitable portions of their rail network. It was a smart financial move for the railroads, but a disastrous one for the many communities that weren't located on the main lines. For the shippers and receivers who depended on rail, it was like closing the on-ramps to the freeway.

Many branch lines were abandoned. Some railroads, with permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission, took up the track and sold it. With active involvement by the state of Oregon, today many of these crucial feeder lines have been leased or purchased and are operated by small companies or communities. These operators know their customers by name, and often go the extra mile, in the middle of the night, to keep things on track.

When one of the cars on its rail siding derailed at 3:00 a.m., Cascade Steel Rolling Mill in McMinnville thought rail shipments would have to shut down because the derailment was blocking the main rail entrance to the plant and would have stopped any outbound shipments.


"We called Willamette & Pacific. They got hold of an engineer who came out here within an hour to get the car back on the track. W&P didn't even charge us. That's the kind of people they are."

Verne McClure, Cascade Steel

When floods devastated Tillamook in 1996, the high water stranded school children and kept creamery workers from their jobs. The Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad added a few coach cars. They brought the kids home over the river and the creamery workers to the cheese factory.

The short lines' "good neighbor" policy is well-known, and appreciated, by their customers.


"Short lines are smaller and more responsive. They have made it clear that they would come in on a Saturday to help us if that's what our business needs demanded. They have jumped through hoops for us."

Taylor Richerson, Boise Cascade, White City

The short lines have written an important chapter in Oregon's railroad history, bringing back customer service and a commitment to community that long ago disappeared.

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