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Oakridge is a train town…for what its worth

By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  In the state of Oregon, it is illegal to leave your car idling while you are not in it. This isn’t striking a blow to combat global warming, if that’s what you think. This is the Oregon legislature’s effort to make it more difficult for a bad guy to steal your car. Never mind that your car is locked and the key is in your pocket. Can you sit in your kitchen, finishing up your coffee and toast, while your car warms up on a frosty January day? Well, technically, no.

The law says that one can’t leave a vehicle unattended without stopping the engine, locking the ignition and removing the key from the ignition. Many police departments have never issued a citation for idling, but, nevertheless, the law is on the books and a ticket is $250.

Trains have very different rules

Rules for train locomotives idling are different, if nonexistent. There are two locomotives in Oakridge that idle 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, aside from the time they’re used to help pull a freight train up to Pengra Pass.

This happens just 2 blocks south of 1st Street. The Union Pacific probably isn’t concerned with locomotive thieves nabbing one for a joy ride to Cougar Hot Springs. But if you live within a few blocks of the trainyard, you become inured to the ever-present rumble of the big diesels. How much fuel is consumed and exhaust spewed into the air in the middle of Oakridge? Unless I saw the fuel receipts, I would only be speculating.

According to an EPA document available online- “The Locomotive Switcher Fact Sheet”, an idling locomotive burns between 3 and 11 gallons of fuel per hour, depending on the temperatures. Even at the low end, that means each idling locomotive burns 72 gallons of fuel per day, over 26,000 gallons per year, most of that in the midst of a residential area.

Switchers and haulers

The Locomotive Switcher Fact Sheet clears up the difference between switchers and line haulers. Switchers are generally used to move rail cars around a yard and are less than 2300 horsepower. Line haulers are added to freight trains to increase the pulling power on grades and are greater than 2300 horsepower. It should be noted that freight trains generally don’t climb grades more than 1 ½%. The 44 mile uphill run from Oakridge to Pengra Pass is the longest continuous grade on the entire Union Pacific rail system.

The fact sheet goes on to say that Idle Control technology can be installed in locomotives to reduce fuel consumption by about 80%. It’s not cheap, but the reduction in the amount of fuel used pays for itself in about 18 months. Local citizens should encourage the Union Pacific decision makers to employ the best technology available to make the mountain air that we breathe a little cleaner.

Were it not for trains, though…

I do love trains. I appreciate the fact that they keep thousands of semis from filling our highways. Semis that do a lot more damage to the roads than passenger vehicles. A person who is serious about getting from here to there on time would put train travel last on the list of transportation choices. That said, I would love to be able to get on a train in Oakridge and go somewhere, even if there was a good chance that it may get there late. I am sad about living in a railroad town where the trains don’t stop to let anyone on or off.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass. Ben is a regular contributor, as well as the Entertainment Report’s columnist. Ben Olson photo
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