The Port of Benton evicted the longtime operator of its railroad track network in June after a Benton County court ruled the tenant breached its duty to maintain the tracks.
Tri-City Railroad Co., which operated the port’s southern connection, was found in default of its lease for failing to maintain the rail system.
Deteriorating conditions on the 16-mile track resulted in severe speed restrictions and disputes with rail users who rely on it to move goods in and out of north Richland.
As part of a final settlement, the port took possession of the track system and offices at 2579 Stevens Drive in mid-June.
The port first sued in 2018. On May 18, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom granted the port’s motion for summary judgment in the case, noting that the railroad breached its 2002 lease.
The court noted damages would be determined at trial, but the port’s attorney indicated it does not expect to pursue damages, saying court dates are difficult to schedule, litigation is expensive and its former tenant may be unable to pay any judgment.
The port said the railroad has ceased operations and is expected to vacate the Stevens building by July 31.
The port has contracted with RailWorks to coordinate rail inspections and maintenance until a new operator is signed on. Advance Signal & Contracting took over signal maintenance and inspection, the port said.
The port has been in a long-running dispute over track maintenance as well as separate plans by the cities of Richland and Kennewick to extend Center Parkway across the tracks to Tapteal Drive near Columbia Center.
The railroad opposed it, saying it interrupted transfer activities in the area and later, that relocating operations to downtown Kennewick harmed its business.
The railroad was built in 1947 to connect the Hanford Nuclear Reservation with the main rail lines in Kennewick. The port acquired the tracks and other assets in the 1100 Area in late 1998.
The 2002 lease obligated the rail operator to maintain the 11 miles of main track as well as sidings and spurs.
In January, the port briefed its two new commissioners on the seriousness of deteriorating track, noting that millions of dollars are at stake if trains cannot safely navigate the network.
BNSF Railway and Union Pacific both use the track to access customers in the Horn Rapids area.
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