The Eagle Cap Excursion Train runs out of the depot in Elgin and reverses course prior to arriving in Minam.
The reason? A substandard bridge.
A formal move to begin the process of replacing the bridge has been taken, which means one day the train could again ply tracks located in Wallowa County.
The board of the Wallowa Union Rail Authority, or WURA, voted Feb. 13 to form a committee with Friends of the Joseph Branch to determine costs and begin seeking sources of funding. The matter is expected to appear on the board’s agenda when it meets again in March.
The authority is a cooperative agreement between the two counties to operate the 62.58-mile ex-Union Pacific Railroad line between Elgin and Joseph.
In addition to the Water Canyon Bridge, three additional bridges would need to be repaired to bring the train to the track’s terminus in Joseph.
“I don’t know anyone on this board who wouldn’t like to see those bridges up and running,” said Steve McClure of Union County, who co-chairs the authority with Susan Roberts of Wallowa.
Funding for bridge projects has become a challenge. Previous grants have come from a state program established to fund air, rail, marine and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on a competitive grant basis.
WURA recently completed a $350,000 project to repair tracks, for which it expects to receive reimbursement shortly.
When the Oregon Legislature approved its transportation bill in 2017, the grants were pulled in favor of pooling funds to complete four large transit projects, according to Scott Turnoy, who had been spearheadings ODOT’s freight and planning program.
Once the $60 million cost threshold is reached, grants will most likely return. That could be as far out as 2022.
Turnoy said there are a couple factors that could bring the grants back sooner, but he was not optimistic.
He said the state does not have a like alternative for rail projects and suggested federal funds might be available.
The Water Canyon Bridge could cost as much as $100,000 to repair. Representatives of the Friends told the WURA board it could also pursue an inverted culvert bridge, which would cost less and be more environmentally friendly than the creosote-covered foundation of the existing bridge.
For the Friends group, which operates the excursion train on tracks owned by the authority since 2002, the repairs are crucial.
“With the train not able to operate in Wallowa County, it’s out of site, out of mind,” said David Arnold, vice president of the organization.
Membership has dropped by around half over the past few years, most of those not keeping current are Wallowa County residents, according to Peggy Weishaar, membership chair for the group.
Weishaar presented a proposal earlier in the month to hold a membership event on the train –– parked in Wallowa to coax Wallowa County residents to join.
Even empty, the train could not be brought to Wallowa because of the condition of the bridge.
A “fun bus” would have originated in Joseph, taking interested individuals to meet the train in Wallowa and return.
“It’s just very frustrating,” said Weishaar.
Members primarily provide volunteer staffing for the excursion train runs. The more members, the more trains that can run, the more revenue the group can generate to improve the experience and help WURA fund its part of the bargain.
Despite a static number of volunteers, the Friends has boosted the number of trips the excursion train will make this coming summer.
Wallowa County residents who would like to join the Friends and receive the recently implemented newsletter for the group can call Weishaar at 541-786-0094 or stop by the depot in Elgin for details. Visit eaglecaptrainrides.com.
Eagle Cap Excursion Train
2018 Proposed Schedule
Sunday, May 5 –– Cinco de Mayo
Sunday, May 13 –– Mother’s Day Brunch
Saturday, May 26 –– Two Rivers
Saturday, June 2 –– Wine and Chocolates Saturday, June 16 –– Spring Train Robbery Sunday, June 17 –– Father’s Day Train Robbery
Saturday, June 30 –– I Love America! Veterans’ Train
Saturday, July 7 –– I Love America! Veterans’ Train
Wednesday, July 18 –– Two Rivers
Saturday, July 28 –– Sasquach Watch
Saturday, Aug. 11 –– Two Rivers
Saturday, Aug. 25 –– Two Rivers
Saturday, Sept. 1 –– Two Rivers History Train
Saturday, Sept. 8 –– All About Fishing - Hatchery Train and Salmon Bake
Saturday, Sept. 15 –– Fall Foilage Photo Run
Saturday, Sept. 29 –– Wine and Cheese Train
Saturday, Oct. 6 –– Autumn Train Robbery
Saturday, Oct. 13 –– Autumn Train Robbery
Saturday, Oct. 20 –– Two Rivers –– End of Season Bounty