Washington state port commissioners agree to sell rail line to tourist operation

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SEATTLE — The Port of Chehalis in southwestern Washington state plans to sell to the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum a 10.2-mile line the tourist-rail operation is already using.

The port’s three commissioners unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the sale at an Oct. 24 meeting.

The museum submitted the only bid for what is known as the Curtis Line, port meeting minutes noted. William Deutscher, president of the Chehalis-Centralia, confirmed that the railroad offered $40 for the line, but said the bid offer was backed by the economic contributions made to the community by the tourist operation, in the form of spending it brings in and the spending it does with local vendors. The sale is subject to terms to be included in a closing agreement. The Chehalis-Centralia expects to carry about 12,000 passengers this year, with more than 80% of visitors historically coming from outside Lewis County.

“The organization believes that by owning the track the chances for investment from grant sources are increased,” the Chehalis-Centralia says in a statement. “While the organization owns several coaches, a dining car, the depot and such, not owning the actual track or site location could indicate a temporary situation, or lack of commitment. By purchasing the rail line the CCR&M has taken a major step in committing to an attraction in Chehalis for years to come.”

Deutscher says the line is “in pretty good shape. It’s class 1. Like any railroad a certain number of ties rot out every year, so we’re going to have to replace some ties, but there’s no major problems.”

The Curtis line was originally part of the Milwaukee Road’s network of branch lines, but was later owned by Weyerhaeuser Co. The port acquired the line in 1996, in large part to continue the steam-train operation that had been formed in 1986.

The Chehalis-Centralia has been operating with a 1916 Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado, which had been on static display in a local park for 33 years before restoration work began in 1987; the locomotive began operating two years later. No. 15 was taken out of service in March of this year after an inspection found problems with the firebox.

The railroad has been doing repairs since then, but says the estimated total bill to get the locomotive back to operating status is $150,000.

The railroad did receive one gift to help finance repairs, but is now conducting a fundraising drive to cover the rest of the expense.

“While the materials are not inexpensive, by far, the major cost is labor and the specialized metal forming skills needed to fabricate and bend large sheets of steel,” the railroad said.

In the interim, the railroad has been using its No. 6 General Electric 65-ton locomotive that once operated at the Puget Sound Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., including on upcoming Polar Express and Santa Holiday trains.
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