Two men accused of helping themselves to part of railroad

COOS BAY, Ore.-- Two men are in trouble with the law after sheriff's deputies say the men tried to take home parts of the Coos Bay Rail Link.

According to the Coos County Sheriff's Office, deputies arrested Fred Alonzo and cited Juan Soto-Ortiz while the two men were loading up new railroad ties in a truck that were sitting on the side of the railroad tracks.

The International Port of Coos Bay hired Balfour Beatty, a Washington railroad company, to install new ties along the tracks from North Bend and down to Millington. The company off-loaded hundreds of railroad ties in various locations along the side of the tracks.

Deputies say the two men had recently be hired as contractors to build a retaining wall for a local homeowner, and that they were allegedly going to use the ties as part of that project.

The Port said even though it looks like things were placed on the side of the tracks, they are not free to a good home.

"They cost about $36 per tie," Elise Hamner, Port of Coos Bay, spokeswoman said. "Anytime there is a theft, people taking things from the line, they're taking away our ability to rehab the railroad and keep it operational."

Hamner said since The Port receives government grant money and other funds to rebuild the Coos Bay Rail Link, and the organization gives back it profits to the community, anyone who steals from the rail link is actually stealing from themselves and their neighbors.

"Anything stolen has to be replaced," she said. "And that just ends up costing us more money in the end."

It is illegal for anyone to remove any items from the tracks, and the men are facing theft and trespassing charges.

"Even if a tree falls on the tracks, it belongs to us," Hamner said. "We sell that timber to local companies, and they give us money for that timber. That money goes back into our operating budget for more improvements."

In addition to theft and trespassing charges, Alonzo is also being referred to the State Contractor's Board for allegedly contracting without a license, the sheriff's department said.

But is it OK to take something from the tracks that is likely to be thrown out. The port says it still belongs to them.

Local residents will notice old railroad ties on the side of the tracks that they may be tempted to take for firewood.

"That wood is old and rotten," Hamner said. "It is also soaked in Creosote, and we have ways to properly recycle them."

The Port said, in the end, it best to just stay off the tracks and visually enjoy the trains. The Port has asked law enforcement in Lane, Douglas and Coos Counties to actively cite people trespassing on the tracks.