Red Tape Derails Oregon Man's Backyard Railroad

Ray Robinson's little railroad has run into some thick red tape.

With the help of volunteers, Robinson has spent about a dozen years building a miniature railroad on his 41 acres in rural Lane County. He's laid 13,000 pounds of rail, built trestles and bridges and converted an old lawn mower into a diesel-hydraulic engine strong enough to pull two passenger cars and 16 adults.

The one thing Robinson never bothered to do was get proper permits.

Depending on how the situation resolves itself, Robinson says he may have to stop working on the railroad, saying it's preferable to spending thousands of dollars for permission to build something already built.

The trouble started when a state employee noticed the railroad's Web site, and informed officials that a permit should be required. The Department of State Lands fined Robinson $3,000, but later reduced it to $500 because of the restoration work Robinson has done in Deadwood Creek, The Register-Guard newspaper reported.

Robinson has until next month to pay the fine.

Lane County officials, meanwhile, say the project is big enough to warrant a building permit.
"I'd say putting a model railroad in your driveway or around your Christmas tree clearly wouldn't need a permit," said Matt Laird, manager of the county's Land Management Division. "But when you start building a substantial structure, with trestles, crossing streams if someone builds a dam, a water tower, that all requires building permits."

At a recent Lane County Board of Commissioners meeting, Robinson and fans of the railroad urged the county to drop it. Laird has gotten several e-mails and letters expressing the same wish.

"They have created something that is uniquely Oregon and a tremendous asset to Lane County's culture," wrote Robin Hostick of Eugene, referring to Ray Robinson and his wife Kathy. "Some years from now, the community may even be looking for ways to preserve the Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad as a resource for future generations."

Commissioner Bill Fleenor said the situation is unfortunate, but the county must enforce land-use laws. But Fleenor, who has ridden the railroad and even helped build it, said there are potential solutions.

The 1972 Forest Practices Act, for example, allows railroads, roads, bridges and culverts to be constructed in preparation for harvesting timber but only with permission from state forestry officials, to ensure proper setbacks from riparian areas.

Another possibility would be to designate Robinson's 41-acre parcel as a "heritage park," open to the public. That, however, would require a look at the engineering of the tracks, to make sure they're safe.

Robinson said he can't afford to spend the thousands of dollars he anticipates it would cost to hire consultants. He just wants the state and county to leave him alone.
"It's not a railroad," Robinson said. "It's my hobby."