Floodwater express hits MHRR hard

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

November 15, 2006

Floodwaters the past week swamped the Mt. Hood Railroad and left the operation scrambling for a fix just before their holiday season.

The majority of damage is on the railroad’s backcountry tracks high up in the county’s hill regions.

“The big damage is the landslide just south of Dee,” said rail manager Michelle Marquart.

The damage forced the closure of all the railroad operations until Nov. 25. That includes excursion trains, freight hauling, and seasonal events. The Polar Express train was scheduled to begin Tuesday. Instead of taking reservations, Marquart is busy filling out forms.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the economic impact the railroad has on the county,” she said.

She was working on damage estimates Monday afternoon to submit to county administrator Dave Meriwether. Those estimates will work up the line to the governor. If the totals for the state come to enough damage, then Oregon and subsequently Hood River County would be eligible for federal disaster relief.

Damage to the operation includes approximately 10 feet of sediment deposited by floodwaters beneath the trestle. Marquart said it appears there was minor damage to the structure itself but the company is bringing in an engineering firm next week to verify it. The estimate for dredging out the Hood River is $300,000.

Approximately 150 feet of track at milepost .5, including ballast and foundation, has been washed out. Repairs include lifting track and filling in with new material. Cost estimates to repair the track are in the range of $20,000 to $30,000.

The waters tore away embankment from approximately 300 feet of track at milepost .7. Repairs would involve bringing in riprap to support both sides at a cost of $25,000 to $35,000.

Land slid under track at milepost 15, which left track suspended in the air over approximately 150 feet. Repairs would include moving the Hood River back to its former east side and rebuilding the approximate 65-foot embankment and relay track.

Marquart said due to existing financial commitments to a federal railroad loan and operations loan, the company is unable to make the repairs. She said without grant funding, the Mt. Hood Railroad would be forced into bankruptcy.

The company employs 60 to 70 workers and provides freight service for lumber, fruit, and propane from the mid-valley region. She estimated they contribute $6 to 7 million annually to Hood River County’s economy. She said they hope to be able to still do some Polar Express runs this season as they will focus first on repairs between Hood River and Odell.

“We haven’t cancelled (the Polar Express run) for the evening of Nov. 24,” she said. “We remain hopeful we can complete some repairs by then.”

So far the railroad has had to cancel 12 Polar Express runs, two brunch, two dinner, and four excursion trains in addition to its freight hauling.

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