Railroad to Treat Area Officials to Dinner aboard Train Cars

Article excerpt

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Much of Lane County's political leadership on Monday evening will be wined and dined in Eugene by Union Pacific Railroad.

The Omaha-based railroad giant will provide a reception and dinner in historic train cars for 25 local elected and appointed officials, most of them from Eugene, Springfield, Oakridge and Junction City. The railroad invited the officials because UP trains travel through those communities.

The invitation-only event will take place on the west side of the company's sprawling west Eugene rail yard, near Bethel Drive.

Among other officials who will attend are Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, Oakridge Mayor Don Hampton, most of the Eugene City Council and several Eugene-Springfield state legislators.

The whistlestop meeting - one of several the railroad is making in the Northwest - will allow UP Chairman Jim Young to tell local politicians about the railroad company and the "importance of Oregon to our business," said Scott Moore, UP vice president of public affairs.

The meeting also will give the local representatives in attendance a chance to talk to Young and other UP executives about matters that concern them.

Those topics include train noise, train crossings, underground pollution around the west Eugene railyard and the desire to improve passenger rail service, local officials said.

The dinner provided by UP will cost about $30 per person, Moore said.

State government ethics laws prevent elected officials from receiving gifts worth more than $50 if they are given to influence legislation. UP will not ask local leaders for any favors and the $30 meal won't break any rule. In spite of that, four Democratic state representatives who will attend the event - Paul Holvey, Phil Barnhart and Nancy Nathanson of Eugene, and Terry Beyer of Springfield - will reimburse the railroad for the dinner's cost, said Michael Cox, spokesperson for House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Clackamas County.

And even though a majority of the Eugene City Council will be attending, officials are considering the event a social gathering not a council meeting subject to open meetings laws, which would require public notice and an official record of what was said.

Piercy said she will talk to UP executives about the need to improve passenger rail service in Oregon.

Union Pacific, which had profits of $1.9 billion in 2009, moves freight. However, its railroad lines are used by Amtrak passenger trains on the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor, which stretches to Vancouver, B.C.

"Freight and passenger need to be working hand in hand for the economic future of Oregon," Piercy said.

City Councilor Andrea Ortiz, who represents downtown and the area that includes railroad's operations yard, said she wants to ask about the company's long-term plans for the property.

Ortiz said some residents remain concerned about underground pollution caused by solvents from the rail yard even though state environmental officials say the amounts are too low to be harmful to people living near the yard.

Ortiz said she may ask UP officials to foot the entire cost of installing curbs, gutters and sidewalks on Bethel Drive next to the rail yard. …