By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Palouse River and Coulee City Railway gets federal funding

 

Last updated 1/10/2019 at 4:44pm

The owner and operators of an Eastern Washington short-line freight railway got good news before the end of 2018 in the form of several million dollars in federal grant money to fund some much needed projects.

The Palouse River and Coulee City Railway received word on Dec. 6 that it had been awarded $5.6 million from the United States Department of Transportation’s Build Program, formerly known as the Tiger Program. The funding is awarded to the owner of the 298-mile line that serves mainly farming communities, Washington State Department of Transportation, to assist with its Rural Rail Rehabilitation project.

“The repairs and upgrades funded by this grant will help Washington’s farmers get their world-renowned products to global markets quickly and efficiently,” Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a Dec. 6 news release announcing the award. Cantwell and Washington Sen. Patty Murray had both written letters in support of the rehabilitation project.

“This major investment will help ensure Eastern Washington’s agricultural community has access to efficient and reliable transportation to our state’s ports and other markets, allowing them to remain competitive while also supporting local jobs and enhancing economic development in our rural communities,” Murray said in the release.


“It’s awesome news for the Pacific Northwest and the operators of those three operations,” PCC Rail Authority Chairman Rob Coffman said. “There’s also matching funds from the (state) Legislature.”

The entire rehabilitation project totals $11.2 million, WSDOT PCC railway manager Bob Westby said. The state’s portion of the project comes to $5.3 million, but three local farm co-ops — Highline Grain, Northwest Grain Growers and Pacific Northwest Farmers Co-op — each chipped in $100,000, bringing the matching funds to $5.6 million.

Each utilizes one of the three branches of the PCC system, with Highline also building and operating a grain-train loading terminal at Four Lakes just off Interstate 90.

“They (federal government) gave preference to projects with 50 percent or more matches,” Westby said. “They want to make sure you have some skin in the game.”

The portion of the line from Coulee City to Cheney — Central Washington — was operated by Eastern Washington Gateway Railway, but earlier this year was turned over to new operators Washington Eastern Railroad. Westby said the funding will pay for over 12 miles of track and rail rehabilitation on this branch.


A second branch of the PCC system — P&L Line — from Marshall to Moscow, Idaho, is operated by Washington and Idaho Railroad. Besides track and rail rehabilitation, Westby said 10 rail bridges would be refurbished on this branch.

The third and final branch — PV Hooper Line — from Hooper, Wash. near Washtucna and running to Colfax is operated by Watco. This line, along with a portion that branches off north through St. John, will mainly see track and rail rehabilitation work, focusing on the portion from Hooper to Endicott in support of the expansion of an existing grain terminal in Endicott in much the same way that CW track from Cheney to Four Lakes was rehabilitated in support of the Highline facility, allowing heavier, 115-car long unit trains to traverse the line at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.

The state completed the purchase of all three branches of the PCC railway in 2007 for $15.5 million. Since then, Westby said they have applied four times for the former Tiger funding with no success.

“This was our fifth crack at it,” Westby said. “We’re certainly happy to see the award come through for us.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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