With the beginning of the coming excursion train season almost upon us, I feel it is important to convey to the Wallowa Union Rail Authority concerns that the Friends of the Joseph Branch Board have regarding the financial and maintenance status of our very valuable railroad assets.
It is safe to say that the board is increasingly frustrated by the lack of ability on the part of the WURA to not only maintain the right-of-way (and thus continue to preserve this historic line) but to find the funding necessary to do this.
Up to this point, it seems to us that the WURA board and railroad managers just simply lack the initiative to get anything done with regard to preserving and maintaining this railroad line. We would hope that WURA would be more proactive and aggressive in finding solutions (which are out there) to keeping this railroad up to an operating standard that we can all be proud of.
The FOJB always stands by ready to assist in any way possible but it is WURA that has the responsibility to take the leadership in this effort. So far, it seems the WURA board are simply willing to settle for the status quo while letting the line gradually deteriorate.
It puts the FOJB board in the position of explaining, year after year, to our friends in Wallowa County why their train is not serving them. We are getting tired of this and the lack of communication about what the intentions are with this railroad really are.
What are the plans for going after the funding necessary to maintain this railroad line to not just adequate but minimum Federal Rail Authority standards? What are the plans for repairing and re-rating the bridges (Minam, Water Canyon and near Enterprise) and having them inspected? Also, what the timeline to accomplish these projects?
What plans do you have for returning the train to Wallowa County sooner rather than later?
We are tired of the lack of vision and communication about WURA’s intentions for the future of this wonderful and historic railroad line. The FOJB have done their part over the years to build an excellent excursion train operation, which compares well with some of the best short lines of its kind in the United States, but we continue to be hamstrung in developing an even better operation by this lack of action.
In the interest of good communication and transparency, we believe it is time for the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority to step up to the plate and make public a renewed vision for the future of this railroad.
Arnold is vice-president of Friends of the Joseph Branch, which operates the Eagle Cap Excursion Train out of Elgin.