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Geiger Spur on track for renovation

Thu., May 15, 2008, midnight

Several Eastern Washington railroad rehabilitation projects, including a reconfigured Geiger Spur on the West Plains, could be under way within weeks, officials said Wednesday.

More than $17 million has been budgeted for construction to improve or preserve rail service to farms and factories in four Washington counties and one Idaho sawmill.

The Geiger Spur has been a priority for Spokane County because several Airway Heights manufacturers that employ as many as 400 people could lose service if track that crosses Fairchild Air Force Base is not rerouted. The track has been a security problem – as Air Police have opened and closed gates to inspect passing trains – and blocks construction of a new Army Reserve center.

Bids for four miles of new rail that will link Airway Heights to the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad, or PRCC, were opened Wednesday by Spokane County officials. The five bids received ranged from $4.8 million to $5.3 million – within or close to county estimates – with additional amounts submitted for a possible siding.

Assistant County Engineer Chad Coles said the vetted bids should be ready for a vote by the county commissioners Tuesday. If one is approved, work could start by the end of June, he said.

The work does not include removal of the track across Fairchild, which will be done next year, Coles said.

Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Transportation will soon begin $3.6 million in repairs to the PRCC, actually three other small rail lines serving Spokane, Lincoln, Grant and Whitman counties, said Mike Rowswell, special initiatives manager for the department’s Rail and Marine Division.

Also, he said, the DOT on Tuesday signed an agreement with a newly formed Interlocal Rail Authority that will put another $8.6 million to work on the PRCC lines, which have separate, private operators.

They serve 25 shippers, mostly farm co-ops.

Spokane, Lincoln and Grant counties, and the Port of Whitman County formed the authority to accept the additional state money.

Lincoln County Commissioner Ted Hopkins is the chairman.

Hopkins said the authority contracted with the DOT to do the track work.

The authority is responsible for rail-related economic development – a spur to a Creston biodiesel plant, for example – and mediating disputes between the railroad operators and shippers.

“We certainly don’t have the capability to oversee a rehabilitation process of this size,” he said.

Rowswell said additional environmental studies must be done before the legislative appropriation can be put to work. The harsh winter, he said, has probably exposed some problems that were not apparent earlier.


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