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Transportation Secretary meets with northwoods rail supporters

RHINELANDER, Wis. (WXPR) -- The state's top Transportation official says there isn't much the state can do when private firms decide to abandon rail line.

Secretary Mark Gottlieb was asked by members of the Northwoods Rail Transit Commission meeting in Rhinelander Friday to outline what can be done to halt, for example, the abandonment of the Canadian National railway line between Crandon and Argonne. He says since the railroads were deregulated, it becomes a private business choice.  "They’re making their capital investments where it fits their business case. In some areas, like (northern Wisconsin) where it doesn't, that is having an impact on areas in Wisconsin, including up here, that lack of availability (of rail) is definitely having an impact on your ability to grow your economy and become economically competitive."

Canadian National has applied to the Surface Transportation Board to abandon the line, and some members of the Transit Commission said the rails were already being pulled out from Highway 8 north. A CN spokesperson at the meeting denied they were being pulled.

Transit members complained to Gottlieb that there is business wanting rail service, but no additional help was forthcoming from the railroad. They reported the CN model was to abandon short hauls for longer ones.

Many in the wood products industry would like to haul forest products via rail, as it is said to be lower cost than trucking. It also is less damaging to highways. Gottlieb told the group that with limited funds, they have to prioritize. He says while the state is working to do as much as it can with rails, limited dollars are put toward highways.  "Serious concerns we have about the ability to maintain and improve our state highway system, public transit, mobility options for people around the state. We talked about the movement of freight and commodities. It all comes down to how are you going to apply the limited way resources we have in the most prioritized way possible. That is what we're trying to do."

The Transit Commission is in the process of trying to acquire cars to make it more economically feasible for a rail line to operate in this area.

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