Can railroad charge fees to cross tracks?

The Albany Eastern Railroad wants to charge residents to cross the tracks in Sweet Home (KOIN 6 News, file)
The Albany Eastern Railroad wants to charge residents to cross the tracks in Sweet Home (KOIN 6 News, file)

SWEET HOME, Ore. (KOIN) — The years-long battle between homeowners and a railroad over a company-imposed fee to cross the tracks finally made its way to a Linn County courtroom Wednesday — and neither side is backing down.

The Albany Eastern Railroad owns the tracks that run through Sweet Home and crosses over Country Lane. The railroad wants the residents who live on Country Lane to pay them a fee to cross the tracks — and get to their own homes.

In 2012, Albany Eastern bought an 18-mile stretch of track between Sweet Home and Lebanon. They sent out notices to homeowners on the other side of the tracks demanding payment to cross — $600 at first, then $125 a year after that. They also wanted a $1 million insurance policy.

Residents resisted immediately, and after two years the fight reached court.

Sweet Home resident Shirley Trahan is one of the people battling the Albany Eastern Railroad, Feb. 19, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Sweet Home resident Shirley Trahan is one of the people battling the Albany Eastern Railroad, Feb. 19, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

“They can just choose to suck us dry,” said homeowner Shirley Trahan. “And that’s not fair.”

The railroad’s Jared Cornell refused to talk with KOIN 6 News Wednesday. “I don’t have anything for you,” he said. “I’m not the People’s Court.”

The railroad contends the fees are to cover maintenance and the potential liability if someone gets hurt.

“One accident on those railroads could bring that company down,” their attorney John Kennedy said. When KOIN 6 News asked why make these residents pay now after many years of open access, Kennedy said, “I think maybe the proper question would be, thank you for not making us pay for the past 40 years.”

But Dan Armstrong, the lawyer representing the homeowners, said, “We’re not going to pay the railroad whatever it wants to charge us.”

The judge gave no timetable when he’ll issue his decision.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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