Since Feb. 15 Mike Bagwell has been in Wallowa County working as the president and general manager of the Wallowa Union Railroad. He has established an office in Wallowa Mountain Engineering's space on Main Street in Enterprise and has kept busy. At present he spends many hours trying to put together an operating plan for the railroad, drafting a budget and working through the transition period as Idaho Northern & Pacific Railroad relinquishes control of the 63 miles of track to Wallowa and Union Counties.
At present the Wallowa Union Railroad has one customer, Wallowa Forest Products, which ships about 10 rail cars of planed lumber each week. It is hoped that additional freight customers will step forward once the train again establishes a regular presence in the valley.
Bagwell says that Idaho Northern is working on the track between Wallowa and Joseph so that it will be ready for use when excursion trains are ready to run into and out of the Wallowa Valley.
After press time Tuesday night the Friends of the Joseph Branch was scheduled to meet in Joseph and entertain an official invitation from Bagwell to form a planning committee to work with the railroad executive on how to best contract services to run an excursion train. It is anticipated that such information as the cost of a train ticket and the scheduling of trains will come out of that committee.
Though the Friends of the Joseph Branch could make its first excursion run prior to June 1, it is June 1 when the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) will officially take over ownership of the four rail cars and locomotive engine which will make up the excursion train to travel between Elgin and Joseph.
Bagwell says that the counties will not assume ownership of any freight cars; instead, mostly through the Union Pacific car pool, utilize rail cars through a complex railroad formula called car hire where you pay by the hour and by the mile. The transition from Idaho Northern to WURA for freight traffic will come at a minimum of 90 days after June 1.