The Great Tunnel Recovery

Rebuilding a historic train tunnel.

An historic Oregon train tunnel that was the site of “The West’s Last Great Train Robbery” is being rebuilt after a fire and partial collapse.

In 1923, three brothers attempted to rob a Southern Pacific Railroad train near the south entrance of Tunnel 13 in Ashland, Ore. They were after a $500,000 shipment of gold rumored to be on board.

After using too much dynamite to blow the door to the mail car, knocking the train off the tracks and killing the mail clerk, they left empty--handed. They shot three more people during their escape. The brothers were caught in 1927 after a worldwide manhunt and sentenced to life in prison.

A November 2003 fire in the 3,100--ft.--long tunnel, believed to have been started by vandals, burned for days and caused the track to melt and bend and collapsed sections of the tunnel.

The 120--year--old tunnel was still being used to haul freight from Oregon to Northern California up to the time of the collapse, so the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad hired LRL Construction to repair and upgrade the tunnel. About 20 timber companies use the rail line, and the tunnel closing has added as much as eight days to some trips.

The most time--consuming part of the project was the removal of the debris from the collapse, a process that was made more difficult by spots that continued to smolder for months after the fire started. Construction and recovery were also hampered by a particularly snowy winter, with up to 4 ft. of snow covering the ground outside the tunnel until January 2004.

Subcontractor Johnson--Western Guite chose to replace the original wooden supports of the tunnel with Quikrete Steel Fiber Reinforced Shotcrete MS. Using shotcrete combines the application of the concrete and packing it down to one step. Spraying the shotcrete eliminated the need for forming and provides an extremely dense (9,000 psi) and high strength tunnel lining, as well as reducing the danger of fire posed by the wooden beams. Johnson--Western Gunite has used about 2,500 bags of the shotcrete for the project, which is expected to be completed this spring.

Have an idea for a “Closing Concept?” Contact editor Jonathan Sweet at [email protected] or (800) 547--7377, ext. 321.