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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Palouse railway reopens after fire burns bridge, closes line for 5 days

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 24, 2021

A fire on Aug. 16 burned a railroad bridge on the P&L branch part of the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad system, just south of Rosalia in Whitman County. It reopened today.  (Facebook)
A fire on Aug. 16 burned a railroad bridge on the P&L branch part of the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad system, just south of Rosalia in Whitman County. It reopened today. (Facebook)

The Spokane, Spangle & Palouse Railway runs on 63 miles of track between Marshall and the Idaho state line, bringing grain and other goods north and taking fertilizer and other supplies south.

But that flow was stopped dead in its track on Aug. 16, when a small fire erupted northwest of Spangle in Spokane County and burned a railroad bridge.

That set off a scramble to replace the bridge with a culvert.

By Friday evening, the SSP was back up and running, said Janet Matkin, communications manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s rail, freight and ports division.

WSDOT owns the track on which the SSP operates , which is known as the P&L branch.

SSP, a subsidiary of Omaha Track Inc., has a long-term contract to operate, manage and develop the P&L branch line.

When the 119-acre blaze, known as the Scottie Dog Fire, came through, SSP had to “act quickly,” said Frank Forlini, director of commercial services for the railway.

While WSDOT helped “with all of the stuff outside of the culvert construction,” like securing permits and environmental compliance, Forlini said SSP brought in the culvert and repaired the approximately 45-foot section of damaged track.

Meanwhile, Forlini called all of the line’s customers personally and “walked them through what was going on.”

The only interruption in service as a result of the fire was a delay in a fertilizer shipment, Forlini said.

Forlini said a “huge percentage of our business is grain” that comes from the Pacific Northwest Farmers’ Cooperative and Palouse Grain Growers, as well as from single farmers.

SSP also handles chemical shipments and stores empty rail cars.

Once shipments reach the line’s northern terminus in Marshall, SSP hands them off to BNSF for distribution over the wider rail network, Forlini said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the bridge and fire, which was northwest of Spangle in Spokane County.

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