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Tunnel between Oregon and California to re-open

ASHLAND, Ore. (AP) – There's a light at the end of the historic tunnel that serves as a rail line between Southern Oregon and Northern California.

After battling a tunnel fire that began Nov. 17, then removing huge timbers and tons of rock and dirt from the collapsed sections, construction crews expect to reopen the tunnel early next month.

They are now shoring up the tunnel and laying new rail lines in some areas to replace those that twisted and buckled in the fire.

The 3,100-foot tunnel connects the rail line between the Rogue Valley and California.

"Removing the debris and everything that collapsed from the fire has been very time consuming," said John Bullion, area railroad train master.

"We had to make sure the ground is safe before anyone could go in there with a machine," he said. "Hauling it all out with a loader or dump truck, four or five yards at a time, has been quite a job."

The work was delayed by the fire, which continued to smolder into February, as well as heavy snow that fell this past winter, he said. About four feet of snow covered the ground outside the tunnel's north entrance in January.

The site is about 4,100 feet above sea level.

Built in the 1880s under the Siskiyou Summit, the tunnel made history on Oct. 11, 1923, when 23-year-old twins Ray and Roy D'Autremont and their teenage brother Hugh attempted to rob a Southern Pacific Railroad train near the south entrance.

The brothers killed four people but left empty-handed. They were caught in 1927 following a worldwide manhunt.

Although it was once used to provide passenger service, the route is now used only by freight trains. The tunnel's closure caused a delay in lumber and other freight deliveries that had to be rerouted between Weed, Calif., and Eugene. About 20 timber companies use the local rails to move their lumber.

Trains have been rerouted north to Eugene, then south to Klamath Falls, taking 10 to 13 days for products to reach California destinations, instead of five.

The tunnel's closure has also reduced the freight revenue for the Yreka Western Railroad Co. by more than 60 percent, according to company spokeswoman Karla Killion.

Dan Lovelady, general manager of the Central Oregon and Pacific, has predicted its losses will be some $5 million, including the cost of rerouting the trains and tunnel work.

An average of two freight trains, mainly carrying timber products, used the tunnel each day before the fire.

The fire is believed to have been sparked by transients or other trespassers. No one has been charged.

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