MCRS Chairman Jack Boone reports:
On September 24th the MCRS hosted a meeting at Northspur to formulate a strategy for increasing the awareness and utilization of rail in Northern California. The meeting was well attended and extremely productive. As a follow-up we have contacted ten RR role-model states and asked for their assistance. To this date the states of Iowa, New York, South Dakota, Michigan, and Tennessee have responded. Their input has been valuable and we now have a model framework to offer for consideration.
A December 15th meeting (too late to report on in this issue) in Willits provided a quarterly progress report to our constituency and planned Phase Two of our strategy for Railway Regeneration.
MCRS-Sponsored Symposium Explores Regeneration of County Rail
ON DECEMBER 15, 1988 the Mendocino County Railway Society sponsored a symposium with the theme "New Life for Redwood Empire Railroads." The meeting brought together representatives of regulatory agencies, railroads, the lumber industry, and tourism groups, with officials from city, county, and state' governments. The focus of the day was on
the ways and means of making rail service once again a vital force in the region's economy. What follows are highlights of that meeting:
Art Lloyd of Amtrak: "In fact, some statistics are quite amazing. The Los Angeles/San Diego (Amtrak) trains returned 133% of their costs in September, and the San Joaquin trains returned 99% of their costs. So we're well on the way to not being a burden on the taxpayer, and that's our eventual aim.
"Amtrak's problem today, that I might as well discuss right now, is that we're suffering from a lack of equipment. We have more demand than there is supply.
"You (NWPRR) can tie in with the proposed Marin/Sonoma commuter operation, if that ever gets off the ground, and run down into Larkspur and connect with ferries or buses into San Francisco."
Larry D. Ruple, Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad:
"We hope to pledge to you the support of the Rio Grande as a small company, which is now a larger company, for working with the NWP and the other groups up here in putting this together as a coalition, or a team effort, and finding out what shippers have needed and what they didn't receive-and doing it as a team!"
Gerald Allen, California Western Railroad:
"We're optimistic for '89. We're moving now towards getting a schedule. We're going to be running some additional tourists/
recreational trips from the Fort Bragg area. We got engine 45 back."
From county government: Jim Eddie, Supervisor, Mendocino County:
"My board is trying to support railroads in every way possible. We know they're important to the North Coast. One thing that bothers me, as well as the other board members, is that it is so difficult to improve the roads going north. We've used up the existing corridors, and expanding those roads becomes extremely difficult. It looks like railroad is the best alternative we've got going to Eureka and now to the coast. We need to all work together in some type of a coalition to strengthen railroads."
From city government: Ed Scott, Mayor, Willits:
"If you're in the railroad business, want you in this area; if you're a shipper, those railroads need your business; and if you're part of the PUC-part of the government, or regulatory agencies-we're going to need your cooperation."
From consumer groups: Joanna Avilla, Standard Structures, Santa Rosa:
"I should say that the existence of Standard Structures is dependent upon the railroad."
Rod Woolley, Pacific Lumber Co., Scotia:
"Pacific Lumber used to ship-when I used to work for them in '77-over 90% of our lumber by rail. Up until this year it was down to about 10%. The last couple of months it's been getting better."
From railroad advocates:
Jack Boone, Chairman, MCRS:
"The three railroads, the California Western, the Eureka Southern, and the Denver & Rio Grande Western (which now owns the NWP line), affect locally six counties and directly affect the entire state. Our goal, our reason for being here, is to develop a viable methodology that can allow and assist railroads to become totally regenerated to service today and tomorrow."
Tony Leibert, North Bay Transit Committee:
"We've been able to convince all eleven incorporated Marin County cities that rail is the way to go for the Highway 101 commuter crunch between Healdsburg and San Francisco. Two weeks ago all eleven endorsed rail over a busway to use the NWP right-of-way."
Ruth Rockefeller, MCRS:
"I'd like to give an overview of the data we've received from other states concerning their rail transportation. The common thread is that most of them began to act when they were faced with terrible losses of rail trackage. In Iowa, they were going to lose 50% of their track in 1980. South Dakota, I think, was losing 9,000 miles of track. Much of this was because of the business failures of the Rock Island, the Great Northern, and other big railroads.
So, other states have acted where perhaps we've been a little smug. We haven't been faced with the devastating loss that others have. We of the Society believe that we need to act regionally and also reach out to the other areas in the state where there are short lines that need help."
The two meetings in September and December of 1988 were followed by a conference in January of 1989 in Senator Keene’s office in Sacramento. Several MCRS directors, CPUC representatives and a railroad expert met with Senator Keene's and Assemblyman Hauser's legislative transportation analysts.
The following bills were the direct results of this meeting. Legislative Update
AB 1374 (Railroad Rehabilitation Bill by Assemblyman Dan Hauser) passed the Senate Transportation Committee on August 22. The next step is the Appropriations Committee. Your support is still needed. Write to:
Assemblyman Dan Hauser's Office, State Capitol, Sacramento CA 95814. AB 1374 will provide funds for the California short lines in need whose survival is shown to be essential to the economic well-being of the areas they serve.
Senator Barry Keene's Railroad Authority Bill (SB 1663) was placed on the Consent Calendar of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on August 23 and approved. The next step is the Assembly floor. Send your support to Senator Keene's office, State Capitol, Sacramento", CA 95814.
SB 1663 will create a railroad authority for Mendocino and Humboldt counties.
BART and Caltrain crews immediately went to work to check out the tracks, tunnels and bridges, but no damage was reported on the Caltrain tracks and only minor damage on BART. Caltrain started operations again at 10:00 PM and BART’s regular weekday morning commute service began rolling right on schedule early on Wednesday, October 18th.
Naturally, both BART and Caltrain had increased riderships after the earthquake: BART has carried about 50% more passengers above its pre-quake normal, and Caltrain 30% more, which has gone down now to 20%.
Caltrain had also run an additional train all the way from Salinas to San Jose, coming north in the morning, going south in the evening. At first only 160 passengers were patronizing the train, but the ridership climbed to 450 before the train was discontinued after Highway 17 opened again.
Lesson: Would it not be much wiser to invest our transportation funds in railroads instead of highways?
Rail Legislation Moves Through Sacramento
By Ruth Rockefeller
FOUR PIECES OF CALIFORNIA LEGISLATION may affect North Coast railroading. One is specific to the North Coast; the others have statewide implications.
At this writing, three have been signed into law by Governor George Deukmejian. The fourth is an initiative, which will appear on the June 1990 ballot. Funding for one of the three already enacted will depend on the passage of two June 1990 ballot measures.
The four pieces of legislation are: SB 1663, which establishes a North Coast Railroad Authority; AB 1374, which provides for short-line rehabilitation projects throughout the state; the Intercity Rail and the Commuter and Urban Rail Programs, which are a part of the major transportation package passed by the legislature and signed by the governor; and, finally, the Clean Air and Rail Transportation Bond Act.
They will be described briefly in the order in which they appear above and then in greater detail.
SB 1663, establishing the North Coast Rail Authority, was authored by Senator Barry Keene and coauthored by Assemblyman Dan Hauser. It is intended to provide an alternative for ensuring railroad service if the Interstate Commerce Commission authorizes the abandonment or discontinuance of service on the Eureka Southern, the California Western, or the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The authority would have the power to issue bonds, payable from revenues of any facility or enterprise to be acquired or constructed by that body.
AB 1374, which was authored by Assemblyman Hauser and coauthored by Senator Keene, provides for funding of short-line rehabilitation projects through the Transportation Planning and Development (TP&D) Account of the State Transportation Fund. AB 1374 was passed as an urgency statute and the deadline for application to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was December 1, 1989.
The Intercity Rail and the Commuter and Urban Rail Transit Programs will not be funded unless two measures are passed by the voters next June. One of these is State Constitution Amendment 1 (SCA 1), which would raise the Gann spending limit and increase the gasoline tax. In relation to this amendment, but specific to rail funding, is a separate $1 billion bond issue.
Even though the funding is not yet in place, Caltrans set a deadline of December 1 of this year for application, with the goal of including projects in a Proposed State Improvement Program (PSTIP) to be submitted for approval by the California Transportation Commission in the spring.
The Clean Air and Transportation Improvement Act of 1990 would authorize a general obligation bond issue of $1.9 billion to provide funds principally for passenger and commuter rail systems. Planned for the June 1990 ballot, the measure is specific on various geographical allotments. Among them are $6 million for improvement of rail service, including rail freight and tourist related services, in Humboldt County. Four million dollars is allotted to Mendocino County for the same purposes.
Examining the four piece of legislation in more detail, one learns that SB 1663 creates a North Coast Railroad Authority, which is to be governed by a board five directors. Two persons are to be appointed by the Board of Supervisors of Humboldt County and two by the Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County. The District Director of Caltrans District 1 will be the fifth member, serving ex officio.
The law requires that the authority shall conduct its first meeting not later than 120 days after the abandonment or discontinuance of service on any of the three railroads included in the measure.
In addition to issuing revenue bonds, the authority is empowered to acquire properties, operate railroads, and accept grants or loans from state or federal agencies or other
sources, both private and public. It may select a franchisee to acquire or operate a rail transportation system.
The legislation also provides that the authority can be expanded to include Del Norte County if rail expansion becomes feasible, and to Marin and Sonoma Counties if regional planning for a line from Humboldt to Marin becomes appropriate.
AB 1374, the short-line rehabilitation urgency measure, provides that, to be eligible for funding, a project proposal must be submitted by a public entity that has made a finding, following a public hearing, that rail service on the affected railroad is in imminent danger of being discontinued without the expenditure of public funds and that the continuation of service serves a public purpose.
"Short-line railroad" is defined in the law as any standard gauge railroad, which is being, or is planned to be, used for passenger service, other than a Class 1 railroad as defined by federal law.
(Class 1 railroads are major interstate lines. Southern Pacific, Santa Fe and Union Pacific are examples.)
The Intercity and the Commuter and Urban Rail Transit Programs are handled by Caltrans, acting under the direction of the California Transportation Commission. In the Intercity Rail Program, the legislation identifies five areas in which rail operations are eligible for funding. Designated as "corridors," they are: Los Angeles-San Diego; Santa Barbara County-Los Angeles ; Los Angeles-Fresno-San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento; San Francisco Bay Area-Sacramento-Auburn; San Francisco-Santa Rosa-Eureka.
It is worthy of note here that the California Western Railroad runs the only private intercity passenger service in the state of California. The others are Amtrak, federally funded, and Caltrains, the state-funded operation on the San Francisco peninsula.
Intercity projects can be nominated by local public entities, by regional planning agencies, rail corridor agencies, Amtrak and by railroads themselves. There are no requirements for a local match.
As mentioned above, the Clean Air and Transportation Act would include specific allotments to specific areas throughout the state. These are spelled out in considerable detail with the amount of the allotment stipulated in each case. They are much more extensive than the five corridors designated in the Intercity Rail Program. Grants would be handled by the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans.
A REPORT ON THE MCRS SPONSORED "RAILROAD COALITION PROGRESS MEETING"
RAILROAD ROLE MODELS from San Diego to Arcata were present at the third Railroad Coalition Progress Meeting sponsored by MCRS on January 17 at the Willits Civic Center. The first meeting of this kind was held in September 1988, in Northspur. Local officials and representatives from neighboring counties, from our legislators, Caltrans, CPUC and railroad societies were invited to discuss the regeneration of rail.
A second meeting in December, 1988, resulted in the introduction of two railroad bills, AB 1374 and SB 1663.
The purpose of the third meeting was to assess what had occurred over the last year, to evaluate the situation, and to form a plan of action for 1990.
After a short introduction by MCRS Chairman Jack Boone, Mayor Ed Scott welcomed everyone to Willits. He said the City
of Willits feels it is critical to keep the railroad viable both for freight and passenger service in Northern California. "We consider Willits as a hub or nucleus for continuing to fight the struggle for a better rail service."
Marin supervisor Bob Roumiguiere gave a short account of the history of the 101 Corridor Action Committee, which completed its job last year with recommending the use of rail for the corridor. Negotiations for acquisition of the NWP right-of-way have been going on for some time with Southern Pacific Company. The asking price is $43 million for the rail line from Marin County to Willits, including the connection from Ignacio to Lombard. The first part of the line, from Bellam Boulevard in San Rafael to Novato, will probably be purchased this year. The options are to buy the second part from Marin to Healdsburg within three years and the rest up to Willits within four or five years. Margie Handley, a local Willits resident and member of the California Transportation Commission, talked in detail about possibilities and complexities of making funds available for the local railroads and what could be in store if raising the Gann spending limit were approved by the voters in June
Jim Knox, land-use director from the Planning and Conserva-
tion League, gave an excellent talk on the rail initiative and pointed out that these funds can be used for rail only. The moneys are allocated on a per capita basis to the individual counties. Mendocino and Humboldt counties will receive $10 million. Endorsement of the initiative by the supervisors of Mendocino and Humboldt counties and any civic groups in the area would be very welcome and would help to get it passed by the voters in June. The two major candidates for governor, Pete Wilson and John van de Camp, have both endorsed the initiative.
Knox also provided some background on his organization, a coalition of about 120 conservation groups around the state. PCL is a lobbying group for environmental legislation and was the sponsor of Proposition 70, the California Wildlife, Coastal and Parks Initiative, in 1988. They have been very much involved with transportation issues for about five years. Rail use is an environmental issue, he said.
Theresa Staber, Assemblyman Dan Hauser's aide, explained in detail how the funds from the Short-line Rehabilitation Bill (AB 1374) could be expended, a rather complex issue since transit money is very mixed up with highway funds. The money could come from either the Transit, Planning and Development Fund or from the Transit Capital Improvement Fund.
Given the budget constraint, Governor Deukmejian's proposed budget this year wipes out the TCI fund. He also took out $40 million from the TPD fund, which has only $19.2 million left, whereas last year's transit budget was $108.million, both funds combined. Fifteen per cent of the TPD fund should go to some 20 counties that qualify for the money through ballot initiatives, which were made possible by Proposition 5 during the midseventies. In addition, the CTC has already made a commitment for $700 million to fund the Los Angeles Metro system and BART.
So where do the $750,000 come from that the Eureka Southern Railroad has applied for under AB 1374? There will be a public CTC hearing on February 15 in Sacramento on transit issues and a priority list for funds will be established and presented to the legislators. It would be very important to have representation from the Mendocino and Humboldt county supervisors, cities, railroads and lobby groups at the meeting to request high priority for funding of the ESR.
Rick Provenca, Senator Barry Keene's aide, spoke about the Railroad Authority, SB 1663, and explained that it could be extended to Del Norte County as well as Sonoma and Marin counties. He pointed out how important a well functioning rail service (freight and tourist and commuter trains) could be for the north counties protecting the roads from congestion and increasing deterioration.
The two Mendocino County commissioners for the newly created Railroad Authority were also present: Ruth Rockefeller, MCRS vice president, and Gary Milliman, Fort Bragg city administrator. They both believe that the commission should get to work as soon as possible and develop a plan before an emergency occurs. At this time, the Humboldt County members have not been named. The fifth member - ex officio — is the Caltrans director, Gene Poch, in Eureka.
The highlights of the meeting were two railroad success stories by Art Lloyd, from Amtrak and Dick Engle, vice president of the San Diego & Imperial Valley Railroad.
Amtrak has overwhelming response from the public—they almost always run full trains! The prognosis for the year 2000 is that Amtrak will be the only railroad in the world to break even or show a small profit. The San Diego-Los Angeles train— although it runs through an area where there are more automobiles than people—has the second highest occupancy rate in the nation. Amtrak will get 165 new superliners this year to accommodate the growing demand.
The total Amtrak budget per year to run 300 trains daily is about $600 million—the cost of one B-l Stealth bomber or the overhaul of Air force One 747.
The SD & IVRR was sold by Southern Pacific to the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board, which started the now famous San Diego Trolley System. Kyle Railways (the owner of California Western Railroad) had a contract to operate freight movements on the line. But business declined and finally the railroad applied for abandonment, which was denied by the California Public Utilities Commission.
In 1984, Rail Tex Inc. took over the operation of the line and Dick Engle became the general manager. In the beginning they were excited when they had 80 freight cars a month; now they run 600.
Many of the goods formerly shipped by trucks are going by rail now, which took a lot of trucks off the road. The trolley system has also become very successful and serves the area well—an overall victory for the "environmentally friendly" railroad.
Although they now have more business, more engines, more employees, they have not lost their individual thinking. The employees consider it their railroad and run it that way. Profit sharing now brings a substantial amount to all of them every three months. Someone from the audience asked Dick,
"How have you succeeded to be so successful?" Dick answered, "With persistence—never give up, and convince shippers with an aggressive marketing team that shipping by railroad is the most economical land transportation available."
MCRS envisions a partnership between freight and passenger service such as this for the railroad from Larkspur to Eureka.
One of the shippers on the ESR, Paul Tureb from Blue Lake Forest Products in Arcata, emphasized how important the
railroad is for their business, both ecologically and socially. They ship a substantial amount of lumber by rail, and he remembers the frustrating struggle when they had to ship all by truck for two and a half years when the railroad was not running. They are very thankful to the ESR for hauling their lumber.
Mendocino County supervisor Jim Eddie made a remark that was dear to all of us who love railroads: not to give up if part of the line is destroyed (pertaining to the Eel River floods) in tribute to those who built it. But he also warned, considering the reality, giving up a railroad would be an environmental disaster.
There were good comments from rail advocates: Lionel Gambill, from the Sonoma County Redwood Railroad Council, stressed how little time we might have left if we do not take drastic steps to save the environment. In view of the environmental crisis, it is very important that trains start to operate as soon as possible. Technically, they could start running within two years.
Toby Leibert, from the North Bay Transit Committee, talked about the situation in Marin County. Except for San Rafael, all Marin cities have endorsed rail for the corridor, and he feels San Rafael will soon follow suit. The November election will bring a measure before Marin voters on whether to implement a commuter rail service, and Tony is pretty sure that it will pass. NBTC is already in high gear campaigning for the issue. Both Toby Leibert and Lionel Gambill have been very active during all these years on the 101 Corridor Action Committee.
Nick Tibbet, Congressman Bosco's aide, praised the positive spirit that guides Amtrak and the SD & IVRR and believes that this kind of spirit should get us through in our attempt to regenerate the Northcoast railroads. He has high hopes for the future of this project now, he would not have been so optimistic two years ago, he said. He suggested to go ahead with the Boy Scout's motto, "Be prepared."
MCRS hopes that the encouraging pro-rail talks of this meeting will result again in good accomplishments for 1990—more trains and cleaner air.
North Coast Railroad Authority:
All the commissioners for the North Coast Railroad Authority
(established recently by the passage of Assembly Bill 1374) have now been appointed. The first meeting will be announced soon. The Mendocino County commissioners are Ruth Rockefeller and Gary Milliman. The Humboldt County commissioners are Delbert Brown and Lloyd Hecathorn. The
fifth member—ex officio—is Gene Poch, the Caltrans district director in Eureka.
NCRA Discusses Plans to Acquire Marin-to-Willits NWP Right-of-Way
By Ruth Rockefeller
A long anticipated meeting between the North Coast Railroad Authority and Supervisor Bob Roumiguiere of Marin County was held in Ukiah September 17. Also participating were representatives of Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District.
On the agenda was a progress report on the acquisition of the Northwestern Pacific right-of-way. So far only the southernmost portion, as far north as Novato Creek, has been purchased by the NWP Acquisition Task Force, which in-
cludes the Golden Gate District, the County of Marin and the Marin Transit Authority.
There are two options to purchase the remainder of the line all the way to Willits, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District as the lead agency. The option to purchase the line to Healdsburg is three years in length and to Willits, four years. The options run concurrently, and the one to Willits includes the right-of-way as far as Lombard in Napa County.
Raising funds to pay for the acquisition was one of the topics of discussion. Many pro-acquisition activities, such as environmental assessments, title reports, and appraisals are going on at present and will have to be paid for. For a four-year period these costs are estimated at approximately $3 million.
Also discussed were the possibilities of creating a new entity under a joint powers agreement to acquire and later operate the railroad. Stan Hulett, who serves as a commissioner on both the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Transportation Commission, said that it was logical to assume that the North Coast Railroad Authority could be expanded to oversee the acquisition and perhaps the operation, if the Golden Gate Bridge District does not wish to do so.
Rick Provenza, aide to Senator Barry Keene, agreed to bring the matter of expanding the North Coast Railroad Authority to the Senator’s attention. It was Senator Keene’s bill that created the authority under SB 1663. The legislation was sought for and promoted by the Mendocino County Railway Society.
A second meeting of participants in the September 17 meeting has been scheduled for December 10 in Santa Rosa.
Sierra Club Supports the Eureka Southern
The Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club (Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, Solano, Sonoma and Napa counties) has endorsed a resolution in support of the Eureka Southern
Railroad. The Sierra Club is a strong advocate for rail
Following is the text of the resolution:
RESOLUTION: The Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club sup-
ports the viability of the Eureka Southern Railroad for freight and passenger service for the following reasons:
—Liquidation of the ES becomes inevitable if no buyer can be found within four months after the creditors have accepted the reorganization papers filed by trustee Jerry Gregg with the Bankruptcy Court.
—The tracks, bridges and piers would be removed for their salvage value. In addition, the cessation of maintenance of culverts, bridges and tunnels would hasten the destabilization of the fragile riverbanks. An environmental disaster of unimaginable proportions would ensue.
—Highway 101 already is extremely congested in certain areas. Additional trucks that would carry the freight now shipped by rail would make it worse. These trucks would use at least three times more fossil fuels than the railroad and would consequently cause substantially more air pollution than the train.
If the railroad would ship freight again at the 1970 level, a
considerable relief from truck traffic on Highway 101 could be experienced. Passenger service by rail from Marin to Humboldt County could also decrease automobile traffic and pollution.
The Sierra Club Redwood Chapter will therefore strongly support the viability of the Eureka Southern Railroad because of its environmentally friendly influence on the quality of life for the north coast counties and will continue to work with the
North Coast Railroad Authority to take over the railroad, hire a qualified operator to run it, and thus save it from abandonment.
Reprinted from The Willits News.
A bill by Assemblyman Dan Hauser allowing the North Coast Railroad Authority to act in the event of bankruptcy or sale of North Coast rail lines was signed by Governor Wilson last week.
Assembly Bill 344 (an amendment to 3B1663) will clarify that the NCRA is also authorized to act in the event of bankruptcy or sale of the rail service.
The Eureka Southern is currently in receivership. Because the bankruptcy proceedings involving the railroad line will be ending in December of this year, Hauser had an urgency clause added to the bill to make certain the NCRA has the authority to act if it is necessary to acquire the railroad.
The North Coast Railroad Authority for Mendocino and Humboldt counties, created by Assemblyman Hauser and Senator Barry Keene legislation last year, was established to provide a means for ensuring railroad service on the North Coast.
If the present rail lines are discontinued or abandoned, the authority would be authorized to acquire and operate the railroads or select a franchisee to operate a rail transportation system. Additionally, the authority may apply for available public funds for railroad purposes, issue revenue bonds and conduct planning and engineering studies for improving rail service.
Rail Authority Considers Purchase of the Eureka Southern
At a regularly scheduled meeting July 10 in Eureka, the North Coast Railroad Authority held a closed session during which negotiations toward the possible purchase of the Eureka
Southern Railroad Company, Incorporated, were discussed.
The Authority has called another meeting for July 24 to dis-
cuss the matter further.
That meeting will be held at the Willits City Hall at 1:30 p.m. That will also include a closed session. Further information may
be obtained from the Authority's legal counsel, the firm of
Davis, McClendon, Poovey, Anderson and Morrison, Inc, 937
6th Street, Eureka 95501, telephone: (707) 443-6744.
North Coast Rail Authority Granted Chance to Purchase
Eureka Southern Railroad
THE WEEK OF NOVEMBER 11, 1991 was a climactic one for the Eureka Southern Railroad, the North Coast Railroad Authority, and somewhat more indirectly, the Mendocino County Railway Society.
On Tuesday, November 12, a federal bankruptcy court decision was made public, naming the North Coast Railroad Authority the successful bidder for the bankrupt Eureka Southern Railroad. Two days later, the California Transportation Commission unanimously granted the North Coast Railroad Authority $6.1 million in Proposition 116 funds to purchase the line and keep it operative.
Both the decision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Alan Jaroslovsky and the favorable vote of the CTC are loaded with conditions, which must be met by the NCRA before the purchase becomes a reality.
The five-member NCRA and its rail consultant, Calrail, with the assistance of many government entities and individuals, are hard at work to meet the deadlines imposed by the Court and the TC. The final and most crucial of these is April 1, 1992, by which date, according to the judge's decision, the sale must be consummated.
Throughout the always complex and often stormy history of the bankruptcy, the MCRS has also been hard at work, helping to ward off liquidation of the railroad, which stretches from Willits to Eureka through the Eel River canyon. Many of the MCRS efforts have been low key and behind the scenes, but very effective.
The Society cooperated with State Senate Majority Leader Barry Keene and State Assemblyman Dan Hauser as the two North Coast legislators formulated two vital pieces of legislation—Keene's SB 1663, which created the NCRA, and Hauser's AB 1374, a short line rehabilitation measure.
Public meetings sponsored by the MCRS, at Northspur and in Willits, facilitated input into the legislative process. Society members also worked for passage of Proposition 116, the Clean Air and Transportation Act of 1990, from which the funds to purchase the Eureka Southern will come.
Keene and Hauser were instrumental in the wording of Proposition 116, which makes monies available to Humboldt and Mendocino counties on an entirely different basis from the provisions for all other counties in the state. The key words are "including rail freight service and tourist-related services."
The inclusion of "rail freight" is vital to the North Coast needs, since, at present, continuation of freight service is the key to the survival of the North Coast rail network, comprised of the Eureka Southern, the California Western and the Northwestern Pacific railroads.
At this writing, freight rolls down the Eel River canyon at the rate of nearly 100 cars per week. This represents about 75 per cent of the tonnage that moves south from Willits on the Northwestern Pacific. Some freight, a relatively small amount, comes off the California Western at Willits.
Because much of the freight leaving Willits on the NWP moves at night, and because the Eureka Southern trains slide unseen through the uninhabited canyon, there is a curious public misconception that almost no rail service exists on the ESRR or the NWP.
The misconception has been translated into "one train a week." There are, in fact, two trains a day—or more accurately, a night— between Willits and Petaluma, one northbound and one southbound, six days a week.
The "one-train-a-week" myth spread to the Eureka Southern and almost went into a public document before a hasty correction was made.
The facts are these: Currently 20 crews are called each week, which means that 20 trains are moving somewhere on the railroad every week. Of these, at present, six are long hauls, between Scotia and Willits, three southbound and three northbound.
In short, in spite of public misconception, freight service will be the major factor in the survival of the North Coast rail network for some time to come. The NCRA, in formulating its operating plans, is taking that fact into consideration. The Authority hopes to improve relationships with shippers and to look for sources of new business.
At the same time, it plans to revive the North Coast Daylight passenger service as soon as possible, perhaps, on a limited basis, as early as next summer. It might be of interest that the North Coast Daylight, prevented from operating between Willits and Eureka by Federal Railroad Authority decree since May of 1990, has, with the approval of the FRA, made a number of short runs this year. They include trips between Eureka and Arcata July 4, and two barbecue runs to Fort Seward from Eureka this fall. Special holiday trips between Eureka and Arcata have been scheduled for the Christmas season.
Meanwhile, the only unsubsidized inter-city passenger service in California continues to run 362 days a year from Fort Bragg to Willits and return. This is, of course, the California Western's Skunk train.
To put it briefly, the North Coast rail network has, along with its distinguished past, a working present and a viable future. The NCRA, with the help of many agencies and individuals, is dedicated to the premise that the future will be bright and enduring.
Congratulations to the NCRA and the North Coast Railroad!
As we mentioned in the last newsletter's bulletin, all the hurdles for the purchase of the Eureka Southern Railroad were finally overcome. On April 1 the deal was closed and the North Coast Railroad Authority became the new owner of the "North Coast Railroad."
The NCRA has already made the first major decision to purchase four new/used engines from Southern Pacific and lease two additional ones with the option to buy. Aggressive marketing for new freight accounts is of utmost importance, and already weekly loads are up compared to previous months.
When the earthquake hit Northern California April 25 and 26, we were all very concerned about "our railroad." But just as Caltrain and Bart were running again only hours after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the North Coast Railroad escaped serious damage. An inspection trip showed the tunnels to be safe and some slides without damage to the tracks. Of course we all are waiting for passenger excursions through the Eel River canyon to be taken up again. Please be patient; it all will happen in due time. We will keep you updated.
SAN FRANCISCO - EUREKA CORRIDOR
The public Caltrans hearing held June 18 in Santa Rosa on intercity rail passenger service between the Bay Area and Eureka was very encouraging. All of those given testimony
advocating beginning rail passenger service. It was pointed out that part of the corridor includes Napa junction. Passenger service that Includes this junction would enable
connections to Amtrak and points :North, South and East.
To qualify for State funding passenger service must obtain at least 55% of its revenue from farebox revenue by the third year of existence. The Willits to Eureka segment has a history of profitable service. Ruth Rockefeller, Co-Chair of the North Coast Railroad Authority, said, "We expect to start passenger service very soon. Excursions may start by the end of the year," Rail passenger service between Larkspur and Willits may be less cost effective according to the Wilbur Smith Study. "Diesel powered light-rail passenger cars are much more economical" declared Mr. Setty of the Modern Transit Society, "these vehicles are mass produced by Duewag to run on standard track." "This is a splendid feasibility study," beamed Paul Copeland, Chairman of the MCRS. "It's time to go on to phase II. Traffic along the 101 corridor is too congested and needs to be relieved as soon as possible.
The two local rail measures in Mendocino and Humboldt—making them Article XIX counties—were passed by the voters. Both counties are now eligible to receive funding for rail transit from a general fund, there are no new taxes involved. The monies are disbursed in relation to population figures and can only be used for capital expenditures.
Unfortunately, the rail bond proposition, 156, failed. This was a big blow to all rail supporters. Interestingly, the voters of Marin County voted for 156 with the highest percentage— 59.6%—in the whole state. This should give a clear message to those people in Marin who have been boycotting passenger rail for the past five years.
Acquisition of Northwestern Pacific Right of Way Negotiations for the purchase of the Northwestern Pacific right- of-way from Lombard in Napa county to Willits are continuing. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District holds the option, which may be exercised by October of this year. In the meantime, a search for an operator is being conducted, and efforts are being made to pull an operating agency together that would include Marin and Sonoma counties. (Call your county supervisors and urge them to support rail. They need to hear from you. Remember: 59.6% of the Marin voters and 50.5%
of the Sonoma voters voted for the rail bond. The majority wants rail!)
Wilbur Smith and Associates is beginning Phase Two of an inter-city rail passenger program for the San Francisco Bay-Eureka corridor. This is a study commissioned by Caltrans
and managed by Caltrans District 1 under the direction of Linda Boyd.
Phase One of the study concluded that three-day-a-week passenger service from Willits to Eureka is feasible, with an emphasis on tourist travel. The study showed a less than 55%
fare box return for the right of way south of Willits; however, a separate study, also done by Wilbur Smith for Marin County concluded that commuter service on the south end is feasible. Phase Two is expected to clarify the possibility for passenger service all along the corridor.
With a record shipment of 564 carloads in April, the North Coast Railroad goes into its second year of operation showing a 23 per cent increase in car loadings for its first year.
The line, which runs from the Eureka area in Humboldt County to its point of interchange with the Northwestern Pacific branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad at Willits, operated as the Eureka Southern Railroad from 1984 through March of 1992.
Purchased out of bankruptcy by the North Coast Railroad Authority and renamed the North Coast Railroad, the line posted overall car loadings of 4,466 in 1992, compared to 3,406 for the same period of time in 1991.
The record was established despite the major earthquake in Humboldt County less than a month after the NCRA assumed ownership and massive storm damage in January of this year.
Much needed rehabilitation of the railroad was given a boost by the California Transportation Commission on May 6, when the commissioners voted unanimously to approve an $800,000 grant of Transit Capital Improvement funds to upgrade the line.
The grant will be matched by a like amount of "in kind labor" on the part of the NCRA, thus totaling $1.6 million for rehabilitation.
The railroad will use funds to begin an extensive track improvement program this summer between Island Mountain and Willits. Approximately 30,000 new ties will be installed with related improvements in track surfacing, ballasting and alignment. Lines side ditching will also be a part of the program.
The TCI grant is the second phase of the program begun while the line was in bankruptcy. Needed improvements north of Island Mountain were completed under Phase I by the NCRA.
Phase II of the program is expected to start early in June.
In the fall of 1992, the NCRA also completed work on Tunnel 40, near Loleta in Humboldt County. This was the second oldest tunnel on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, dating from 1884, and the second longest on the present NCRR at nearly 2,000 feet. (The 4,300-foot Island Mountain tunnel is the longest.)
Phase n repairs and additional work planned under Proposition 116 funding will improve the trackage to the point at which passenger excursion service can be resumed from Willits to Eureka.
At present, the passenger service is operative with selected short runs in the Eureka and Willits areas.
Negotiations are underway between the North Coast Railroad Authority and Sonoma County to put into effect the agreement for the county to join NCRA. The decision to join the Authority was passed unanimously by resolution of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors April 6. Details are being worked out by attorneys for the two entities.
Entrance of Sonoma County into the NCRA will strengthen the Authority, which has represented Humboldt and Mendocino counties since its inception in January, 1990. It should speed acquisition of the Northwestern Pacific trackage, which will improve freight service all along the North Coast of California and open the way for some kind of passenger service south of Willits.
Sonoma County Joins NCRA
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the North Coast Railroad Authority recently signed a resolution that will finally make it possible for Sonoma County to join the NCRA. Although a preliminary resolution concerning the same matter had been voted on earlier in April, several technicalities had to be discussed and dealt with. Now the road is clear and the two representatives from Sonoma County to the NCRA, should be appointed very soon. In addition to the District 1 Caltrans Director Gene Wahl as an ex officio member of the NCRA there will be another ex officio member, a representative from the Golden Gate Bridge District Board. A seventh voting member to the NCRA will be a representative of one of the cities alone the line.
MCRS hopes that the new, expanded NCRA will soon finalize the acquisition of the NWP from Willits to the south and begin to make plans for the long-awaited passenger service.
Rail Authority makes bid to run line
By Ruth Rockefeller
Two meetings, some 220 miles apart on Tuesday. February 1, attested to the growing strength of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) and the railroad network it is rebuilding after years of neglect.
One meeting in Santa Rosa, a weekly session of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, reaffirmed the Supervisors'
commitment to the NCRA as the potential owner of the entire line, which stretches from Korbel in Humboldt County to the interchange with Southern Pacific (SP) in Solano County.
The other, a smaller but no less important meeting in Eureka, gave major shippers in that area an update on track conditions and an outline of the NCRA five-year business plan, prepared by John Williams of the Woodside Consulting Group, the executive director of the NCRA. That plan includes $12 million worth of track rehabilitation.
Also explaining the NCRA program to the shippers were Dennis Wood, Authority chairman, and Dave Hebert, the general manager of the North Coast Railroad (NCRR).
As the result of that session, several major shippers pledged their support of the NCRA's acquisition of the southern half of the former Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWPRR) from a point just north of Willits to the interchange with SP, a distance of approximately 160 miles.
Two thirds of the freight which now moves between the former NWP and the SP mainline originates in Humboldt County.
At issue, and moving toward a resolution at a summit meeting scheduled for February 25, are the stated position of Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge District and also the quality of service provided between the Willits and the SP interchange by the California Northern Railroad (CFNR), a lessee operator selected by SP, Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge District in September 1993 to move freight on the south end.
The summit meeting, called by federal and state legislators, is an effort to iron out some of the differences between the Bridge District and Marin County, on the one hand, and Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties on the other.
The position of the Marin County faction is that the railroad right-of-way, principally between Larkspur and Healdsburg, should be acquired and owned by an "agency" of indeterminate structure for promotion of rail passenger services—or possibly for High Occupancy Vehicle highway lanes.
This stance is held despite the fact that sales tax increases for passenger rail transit have been defeated in both Marin and Sonoma counties.
Moreover, a recently released working paper on an Intercity Passenger Rail feasibility study, commissioned by Caltrans, concludes that passenger service on the south end of the former NWP would be costly and would not recover the necessary 55 percent the fare box return for intercity rail funding.
It is the belief of NCRA directors and staff that ownership of the 300-mile line and freight operation on it by the NCRA is the only viable answer to freight movements in northwestern California, an area larger than several eastern states.
The NCRA envisions a future with intermodal freight operations, combining rail, highway and sea transportation. This is an extremely important aspect of the future of port development at Humboldt Bay.
Already a leader in rail passenger excursion service on the North Coast, the NCRA is also confident that it can develop eminent satisfactory passenger operations south of Willits, beginning with excursion trips and expanding to intercity and commuter to meet future demands.
NCRA's Acquisition of Willits-to-Larkspur Rail Line Moves Closer to Realization.
by Ruth Rockefeller
REUNIFICATION OF THE FORMER NORTHWESTERN
PACIFIC RAILROAD, a long-held dream of the Mendocino County Railway Society, moved a step closer to reality during the week of May 16, with positive action by two governmental bodies.
Perhaps "dream" isn't the word here, for MCRS has been in the forefront of the fight to bring the former NWP back under one ownership, preferably that of the North Coast Railroad Authority, which the Society was instrumental in establishing.
Although there are undoubtedly roadblocks ahead, placed in large part by certain elements in Marin County, acquisition of the line south of Willits, and, finally, ownership by the NCRA now seems possible.
On Wednesday, May 18, the NCRA approved two documents at its monthly meeting in Fortuna. One was a memorandum, which would restructure the NCRA to afford protection to the NWP assets, separating them from the assets of the NCRA.
"Protection" of assets south of Willits had been a major bone of contention put forth by the Marin County group led by Supervisor Bob Roumiguiere.
Other Marin County concerns were addressed in a resolution establishing policy "with respect to activating expansion of the Authority jurisdiction to Marin County."
Both documents had been approved in concept by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors the previous day, subject to final approval by the NCRA.
Jim Harberson, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and also president of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, announced that he would direct Bridge staff to work with the NCRA on the acquisition.
The Bridge Board holds the option to buy the so-called south end of the former NWP from its current owner, Southern Pacific Transportation Company. SP has leased freight operation on the line to the California Northern Railroad. Because of SP policy, no passenger service can be operated on the trackage at present
The NCRA, which owns the line north of Willits, operates both freight and limited excursion passenger service as the North Coast Railroad.
Restructuring of the NCRA, as approved in the memorandum, calls for the North Coast Railroad to be created as a separate railroad operating entity; the NWP, the entity for the consummation of the acquisition south of Willits, as another separate body; and the NCRA as a holding company with
the responsibility for establishing and providing policy, strategic direction, management, financial control and common marketing of all three entities.
A further provision of the memorandum stipulates that the NCRA would enter a contract with Sonoma and Marin counties and the Bridge District for a 20-year term. That contract would require that none of NWP's assets would be utilized either to fund the operations of the NCRR or to be pledged as collateral for loans to the NCRR without the express consent of all parties to the contract. The contract could be terminated or modified only with the consent of all parties.
The resolution spells out further stipulations designed to ally the concerns of the Marin County contingent
NCRA's compromise moves right-of-way acquisition closer to reality.
Representatives from Marin and Sonoma counties, the North Coast Railroad Authority and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transit District met on November 4 in Santa Rosa. They jointly developed a proposal concerning the pending acquisition of the NWP right-of-way. At the NCRA meeting on November 16 in Fortuna, the commissioners voted to accept the following proposal as a possible compromise:
1. Ownership of the remaining NWP right-of-way to be acquired would be vested with the NCRA
2. The County of Marin and the Golden Gate Bridge. Highway and Transit District would retain ownership of that portion of me right-of-way already owned by those agencies in Marin County.
3. NCRA will convey to the Joint Powers Agency formed by the Sonoma County Transit Authority, Marin County and the GGBHTD an easement for passenger service (commute, intercity and excursion) from Cloverdale south to Novato. NCRA would retain the authority to offer intercity and excursion service south of Cloverdale until the JPA offers such service, and thereafter through a coordination of service agreement.
4. Marin and GGBHTD will convey a freight service easement to NCRA between Ignacio and Novato.
5. NCRA and the new Joint Powers Agency would develop and execute a coordination of service agreement.
6. NCRA/new JPA easement agreement would include reversion provisions whereby ownership of right-of-way would revert to JPA in the event NCRA became insolvent.
By accepting the compromise proposal, the NCRA has made a very serious effort to facilitate the acquisition. The main obstruction to the deal still comes from south of the Sonoma County line, and we hope that with this latest compromise by the NCRA, Marin will do its part too and finally support the acquisition. Although Southern Pacific is not yet willing to sell to the NCRA (as again expressed in a letter of November 9 by SP to Sonoma County Supervisor and GGBHTD president James Harberson), one can only hope that the issue will finally be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and the deal can go through before the end of the year. WE URGE ALL MCRS MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF THE RAILROAD TO MAKE AN ALL-OUT EFFORT TO CONTACT THEIR LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES, write letter to the newspapers, call the talk shows and voice strong support for the acquisition of the NWP right-of-way by the NCRA! You can make a difference!
In other matters, Gary Milliman, Fort Bragg city administrator and commissioner on the NCRA for Mendocino County, was elected as incoming chairman for 1995. The next NCRA meeting will be in Sonoma County on December 21.
The North Coast Railroad needs your help—NOW!
BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS from Humboldt County met on April 26 in Eureka to discuss economic development ideas for the area. Dave Hebert, general manager of the North Coast Railroad, emphasized the point that the NCR "is a very integral part of the economic system on the north coast." Although the railroad had been practically shut down since January 10 because of the storm-inflicted track damage, it is now back to about75% of its operation. At the North Coast Railroad Authority meeting on April 27, Hebert said that he could foresee increasing freight shipping on the line to as many as 715 cars a month by year's end. Without the freight coming from the north coast, the rest of the rail line south of Willits cannot survive.
There is no question that the railroad suffered great losses, not only from the damage to the line itself, but also the loss in revenues. The financial report at the April 27 meeting did not look good. NCRA executive director John Williams told the board that by late summer the railroad will have a $2.2 million deficit. Although the NCR is eligible for FEMA money, it will be slow in coming. Unfortunately, the NCR is restricted in obtaining a loan because it is the only agency in the state that cannot use its property as collateral.
The NCR's problems were on the agenda of the California Transportation Commission on May 2. The CTC ordered a review of the NCRA to decide whether it will be possible for the railroad to survive. Caltrans seems to favor shutting down the railroad, preferring to use the funds for roads.
This is where we need your help! Please join us in writing letters to or calling the state representatives of the North Coast.
Tell them it would be a terrible mistake to give up this railroad. Without the freight coming from the north cost, the rest of the line south of Willits cannot survive.
The NCR has at times run as many as 400 freight cars per day (see Fred Stindt’s NWPR books.)
How can Caltrans be so shortsighted and not recognize the railroad's potential? This is a political ploy to torpedo the regeneration of rail for the entire San Francisco-Eureka rail corridor.
At the March NCRA meeting, Mr. Hebert explained that all the areas where track rehabilitation had been completed last year, the storm damage had been light or non-existent. This proves that with adequate maintenance this railroad can survive. But prior to the NCRA taking over the management of it, the line had been owned by a company that for many years tried to abandon it and only did the most necessary maintenance work. It is no surprise that after this dreadful winter the rail line is experiencing problems.
Work on tunnel #11 has just started and is expected to be completed in about 90 days. At that time, passenger excursions from Willits to Eureka could become a possibility, and this would mean new revenues for the railroad. So please urge the legislators to support the NCR. This railroad must survive!
California Transportation Commission Endorses Rail, Ignores Caltrans Report
By William Ray
The North Coast Railroad, holding its own with freight from Eureka but in need of repairs and more financial backing, got a critical boost August 15 when the California Transportation Commission authorized a $12 million loan. The CTC also approved capitalization funds for upgrading the roadbed, $240,000. The loan must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. The loan package is out of federal funds the CTC administers, subject to approval. However, with a handful of technical points to iron out, and the likelihood this will happen, the arrangement should hold up.
Supporters of the NCRR, readers of this newsletter among them, got a scare when Caltrans recommended against
supporting the railroad on the North Coast. The CTC ignored the recommendations and acted on its spoken policy to promote rail where feasible.
The Caltrans report came from the Sacramento division of Caltrans' large bureaucracy, and its negative evaluation of the new railroad reflects a bias towards roads. Out of 17,000 employees, only 135 do anything but plan and build roads. Ninety-seven percent of the enormous Caltrans budget, overseen by the CTC, is road oriented.
Given the devastating effects on health, land use and resources of a road-only orientation, the CTC seems to see the gridlock future and is trying to remedy the trend.
Although the $12 million is a loan, it has a seventeen-year term, and North Coast Railroad Authority board member
Allan Hemphill and others are confident the growing railroad can meet it. Meanwhile expansion of shipping must develop, in both directions. Freight cars traveling north are usually empty.
The NCRR carries 20% of the timber going south to the Bay Area and beyond. If this figure goes up, so do the road costs from trucking go down. Sixty percent of road repairs along the North Coast are due to truck traffic.
Conversely, losing the railroad would increase truck traffic by a sixth with the familiar effects: pollution, needless expense on repairs to roads, and missing out on a chance to bring rail back as a cultural and economical feature of Northern California. The future's so bright; you'll have to wear an engineer's striped hat.
On October 21, a festive crowd celebrated the long-awaited reopening of tunnel #11 on the North Coast Railroad, just north of Willits. From here the North Coast passenger cars carried railroad officials, railroad authority commissioners, city and county officials and many railroad friends to the south end of the tunnel where the opening ceremony took place. There were some speeches and everybody got a chance to inspect the work, which had been done "in house" by the North Coast Railroad crew. Assistant roadmaster George Scott had supervised the project, and he and his crew received a great applause for a job well done. Finally, to the cheering of the crowd, the first freight train approached from the north through the tunnel, "cutting" the ribbon.
When fire had destroyed the tunnel in August of 1987, a "shoofly" had to be constructed around the tunnel on a narrow, steep bank very dose to Outlet Creek. The sharp angle of the shoofly demanded that trains proceed very slowly and cautiously along this stretch. Now, with the tunnel open again, the trains will save 30 to 40 minutes on each trip. Hopefully, the Federal Railroad Administration win soon give permission for passenger excursions through the beautiful Eel River Canyon.
STATE SANCTIONS A RAILROAD FUTURE FOR THE NORTH COAST!
The following North Coast Railroad Authority press release of February 23 was the reward for a long uphill struggle in which MCRS was involved from the very beginning—years of planning, hope, work, prayer and persistence:
Unanimous support by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) for the steps necessary to complete the acquisition of 142 miles of railroad on the North Coast was given at the commission's meeting in San Francisco this
Allan Hemphill, chairman of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). one of the participants in the acquiring entity, called the Commission's action a "landmark event".
"The linchpin of the acquisition," he said, "is the CTC approval of the repayment terms of a $12 million federal loan by the North Coast Railroad Authority."
Hemphill praised the teamwork that went into the CTC approval, citing efforts by the Golden Gate Bridge District, Marin County officials, and officials of the three counties comprising the NCRA—Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt.
The Bridge District, Marin County and the NCRA are members of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority (NWPRA), a joint powers board, which will own the old
Northwestern Pacific, from Lombard in Napa County to Healdsburg. NCRA will purchase the portion of the railroad from Healdsburg to Willits to accompany the segment north of Willits to Humboldt County, which they already own.
The sale by Southern Pacific to the NWPRA will mean reunification of a valuable transportation facility for the North Coast, Hemphill said.
Freight now moves over the entire line, with passenger service to launch in the future. Completion of the acquisition is expected by summer.
Hard Work Gets Results:
The NWP Is Back On Track
The following railroad news is the best we ever compiled for the MCRS newsletter since we started publishing:
On Monday, April 29,1996, escrow closed on the sale of the southern portion of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. From now on, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority (NWPRA) will share ownership of the 300-mile line. The NCRA, representing Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, adds the line from Willits to Healdsburg to the part of the line it has owned since 1992 from Willits to Korbel, a small Humboldt County town north of Eureka.
The NWPRA is a joint powers authority composed of the NCRA, the County of Marin and the Golden Gate Bridge District. It now owns the railroad from Healdsburg to Lombard in Napa County. The Bridge District owns the most southerly portion, eleven miles from Novato to Larkspur. Although the California Northern had leased and operated the freight service from Willits to Lombard since 1993, the NCRA will now take over this operation, connecting with CFN at Shellville. But CFN will continue from there to Lombard and connect with Southern Pacific in Solano County.
The acquisition has brought other changes. The railroad's new name—or rather "old" name, dear still to many people in the North Coast counties—is now Northwestern Pacific Railroad, and Southern Pacific has agreed to allow the use of the name and the logo. Edward McLaughlin, present CEO of the NCRA, will become the CEO of the new company.
This very lengthy and complicated procedure would not have occurred without great human effort and commitment. NCRA member Ruth Rockefeller praised Allan Hemphill, the NCRA chairman: "He, together with other members of our board and of the NWPRA, has contributed long hours of hard work and has weathered many frustrating setbacks in the struggle to attain the historic railroad for the benefit of the public."
The prime objective now is to improve track conditions. Excursion trains are planned for the near future, perhaps as early as Labor Day weekend. And commuter and intercity trains are the goal for the more distant future. Towns along the way are already gearing up for the future. Perhaps now it will be possible to seek something of what Europe has already achieved—a transit system that is fast, safe, inexpensive, and which minimizes catastrophic risks and exploitation of land-use.
During the last two decades, the North coast's two major railroads appeared to be headed toward extinction: a 100-year flood of the Eel River combined with industry's march to replace steel wheels with rubber tires and railroads with roads, cars and trucks, were the reasons for this prognosis.
In 1983, Southern Pacific attempts to abandon the Eel River line from Willits to Eureka, and in 1985, the California Western filed a system diagram map and a request to abandon scheduled service with the Public Utilities Commission
the first step in the process of abandoning a railroad.
Both attempts failed due to the involvement of local activists, MCRS, the Willits City Council, the Mendocino County Supervisors and the PUC. However, the outcome in both cases was not ideal: the NWP railroad was split into two ownerships. Southern Pacific operated the line from Willits south, and a new owner ran the line from Willits north under the name of Eureka Southern.
The attempt to transfer the CW into local ownership failed when out-of-state Kyle Railways, who leased the line from Georgia Pacific, made use of its right of first refusal.
In 1986 the Eureka Southern declared bankruptcy and in January of 1987 a trustee was appointed by the federal government to operate the railroad. It soon became apparent that this trustee had little desire to save the ES, and it became MCRS' goal to create a condition that would prevent the abandonment of the ES at the end of the five-year bankruptcy period. It was agreed that a state-backed railroad authority could best fulfill this goal. MCRS concentrated on creating such an authority by organizing two major, well attended meetings in Northspur and Willits (September and December 1988). These meetings were followed in January of 1989 by a conference in Sacramento that brought MCRS directors, PUC representatives, and a railroad expert together with Senator Barry Keene and Assemblyman Dan Hauser, who both acted promptly after this visit. They introduced two bills—SB 1663,- which established the North Coast Railroad Authority in 1990, and AB 1374, which provides for shortline rehabilitation projects. Both bills were signed into law later in 1989.
These two legislative bills more than anything else prevented the scrapping of the ES in April of 1992 when the five-year bankruptcy period came to an end and the NCRA became the owner and operator of the line. Both bills also supported the efforts to acquire the NWP right-of-way from Willits south to the mainline in Lombard, especially after the Sonoma Board of Supervisors joined the NCRA in August of 1993. Now all these efforts have led to a result that seemed almost impossible ten years ago: the 300-mile NWP railroad is alive again, in one locally controlled ownership, and will serve the people n the North Coast counties.
MCRS thanks all those who sacrificed so much to reach this goal, and we are proud to have been instrumental in securing success. We hope that the general public will now do its part and use and support the railroad.
Ruth Rockefeller ,
Mendocino County commissioner on the NCRA and MCRS director or vice-president from 1988 to 1994, is the most loyal supporter of rail. She has worked diligently to bring this railroad back to life.
Here is Ruth's reaction to the completed sale: "Acquisition of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad south of Willits is the culmination of a number of courageous battles fought for more than a decade. It would take a book to describe them all. Many, many people have given time, money and prodigious effort to make it happen. The Mendocino County Railway Society represents the best in that struggle. In years to come, when Gregg Schindel leads the singing of “Daddy, What's a Train?' children of California's North Coast can chorus, we know! We know!'"
Return of the Northwestern Pacific
Nearly forty years have passed since passenger rail service served Willits from the South. The first tentative steps toward restoration of this service began June 14th in Black Point, Marin County, with a special celebration train and ended in Willits on June 16th.
Celebrating the arrival of the historic excursion at the Willits station were
Assemblyman Dan Hauser, Mayor Bruce Burton, former Marin Supervisor Bob Roumiguiere, NCRA Director Ruth Rockefeller,
NCRA Chairman Allan Hemphill and NCRA Director Gary Milliman and a huge crowd.
Ridin' the NWP By B.M. Frimbo
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad, in existence for only six months, reinaugurated passenger excursions this fall: six trips, over the first three weekends in October, from Healdsburg to Willits and back, each train packed with over three hundred people.
The last time passengers could buy a ticket and ride an NWP excursion was in 1969, twenty-eight years ago. And judging from the equipment and passengers, it would be a good guess that the same cars, locomotives and even the same passengers were on both excursions, some doing quite well, some a little worse for the wear.
We rode the train on Saturday October 12, one way from Willits to Healdsburg. The round trip fare of $97 (or $150 for riding the dome cars) was, like some of the grades we slowly climbed on this trip, a bit steep for our Willits pocketbooks, so we found friends to share the ride. And we were there at the Willits depot at 2:15 p.m. when the headlights of the three vintage (built in 1955) SD-9 diesels, sporting their new NWP black-red-silver paint, pulling nine old Southern Pacific Daylight cars and four silver dome cars, came around the bend and pulled into Willits, only an hour and fifteen minutes late. By 3 p.m. we were on our way south.
Passenger train excursions are always an unpredictable adventure, with inconveniences and delays we'd tolerate only in a greatly loved old aunt, or a greatly loved old passenger train, click clacking nostalgically along tracks that miraculously are still there. We can only appreciate and admire the many people who volunteered, out of a vision for the future (and a pure love of trains) to piece this ride together, to find a way around the bureaucratic and insurance Scrooges who always try to derail these adventures, and to pull it off.
When you are sitting on a runway in a Boeing 737, next in line for takeoff, think of those first few seconds when you realize the plane is starting to accelerate, trying with all its fierce and desperate thrust to get up to a tremendous speed and in the air before it runs out of runway, and pure terror grips you for just a moment. Don't crash. When you are sitting in front of the Willits depot in a comfortable old Daylight car, wondering if the train is ever to pull out, savor instead the luxurious and relaxed anticipation, as you realize the train is starting to move, almost imperceptibly, people at the depot waving, the train slowly picks up speed (not much speed, mind you), and you know that a rare and special adventure is about to begin.
Some seventy miles of Northern California scenery, from the industrial New-Jersey-ish south end of Willits (Don't all train rides start that way?) up the long and beautiful Ridgewood Grade, down through Ukiah, and then an unscheduled emergency stop in Hopland— the train was running out of beer. From there we traveled along the Russian River north of Cloverdale, through tunnels, past wineries, and then into Healdsburg.
Along this entire trip were views only railroad passengers get to see: scenic old farms and homesteads well off the paved roads; river canyons known only to dedicated fishermen who will hike miles to a pristine trout pool, the dark and close walls of mountain tunnels; the remains of long abandoned old time railroad equipment from the steam days, true early 20th-century artifacts; and the crazed railroad photographers and historians who kept racing the train in their cars down pot-holed dirt roads, trying to get ahead of the train for one more historic photograph.
And finally (finally), we rolled into Healdsburg, only four and a half hours after pulling out of Willits, greeted by a darkened, boarded up station, a station that hopefully some day will be restored to some of the worn but proud glory of this now restored train. Our train attendant thanked everyone, promised the air conditioning would be working next time, and escorted us off the dark train with his flashlight. The train lights will also be working next time. The beer was cold.
The December 18 meeting of the North Coast Railroad Authority covered many important issues. Unfortunately, the financial situation is still depressing, but the report about a new freight contract was encouraging, it will add approximately twenty-five freight cars per week and increase cash flow. There are still large sums of state and federal moneys - which have been approved—outstanding, the bureaucratic wheels turn very slowly. The city of Willits again came to the rescue and extended a loan of $300,000 in order to tie the railroad over until the promised money comes through. Also. the possibility to raise money by floating a bond issue was discussed.
Another suggestion was a $100 surcharge on every freight car, which would still keep rail freight charges below trucking fees and increase revenues for the railroad. NCRA vice-chairman Allan Hemphill, aware of unpleasant memories revived by this proposal, pointed out the vast difference of this small surcharge,
designed to save the railroad, and the very high surcharges Southern Pacific levied in the 1980s to speed up abandon-
ment. No action was taken on both proposals. It was also mentioned that Union Pacific is eager to improve freight ser-
vice—make it faster and more efficient—and that they are much more willing to listen to the concerns of the short light railroads than SP ever was. So there is hope that rail freight service on the NWP will steadily and consistently increase in the future.
There was good news concerning the recent heavy storms that hit the region. During all these rainy weeks, freight operations continued on schedule, in spite of flood damages, which were estimated for the entire line at about $120,000. Ironically, the worst damage occurred not in the fragile Eel River canyon, but at the southern end, near Shellville, where the tracks were covered under four feet of water!
More dome cars on passenger excursions
The NCRA decided not to contract out for the upcoming passenger excursions in 1997 but rather to handle them in house, with Arthur Lloyd as the coordinator. The NCRA has an option to buy a dome car, "Native Son”. Mr. Lloyd urged them to do so. He also suggested leasing six Amtrak dome cars for $11,000 per year. The dome car seats were the first ones that sold out for the October excursions, and three of the Amtrak dome cars can seat over 100 passengers each. Mr. Lloyd also advised to include several F-40 Amtrak diesel engines in the lease to provide head and power for the dome cars.
Passenger excursions are to begin in March, on Saturdays and Sundays, with the emphasis on shorter runs, such as from Healdsburg to Hopland or Ukiah, but there will also be some longer excursions all the way to Willits.
Sheridan Malone, the NCRA city representative from Ukiah, made a pitch for trips from Healdsburg or Hopland to Ukiah, with sufficient lay-over time to visit a museum, take a tour of the historic part of the town or do some shopping.
Citizens’ group opposes track removal
During the public-comments period of the NCRA meeting, David Schonbrunn from Marin Advocates for Transit report-
ed on the recent California Public Utilities Commission hearing, concerning the city of San Rafael's flagrant removal of NWP tracks at the south end of San Rafael. The PUC's decision on the formal protest tiled by the Marin Advocates of Transit is expected at the earliest by the end of January. Briefs have to be
filed by January 10.
Marin Advocates for Transit invites individuals, community groups and public agencies to submit comments on the city of San Rafael's application to remove tracks for the Anderson Drive Extension to the Docket Office at the
California Public Utilities Commission.
NWP and CWRR Bounce Back from Mud Slides
and Tunnel Closures
By William Ray
Known as one of the world's twistingest railroad region, the north coast saw its rail lines temporarily stymied by clay and shale slides this winter, however, the Northwestern Pacific adjusted by using trucks from Eureka to Willits. And California
Western repaired the tunnel #1 near Fort Bragg and the Skunk slunk again on regular schedule February 15.
NWP was still dealing with substantial damage to the tracks between Willits and Eureka, especially the west Portal of tunnel #36, (between Tan Oak and Sequoia for hard-core rail followers). The portal had collapsed under the weight and force of a mudslide. It was soon cleared and opened again in late
January. Finally on March 12, the line between Eureka and Willits was open again for regular freight service.
Only minor damage occurred at the Southern end of the line, near Willits. A spokesperson for the NWP brought good news with the less good: that many sections of the tracks between Willits and Eureka are now in much better condition than they were before the winter storms. Repair on the track is accumulative. As the general condition goes up, there are fewer problems from weather effects. The crews will continue to work on the roadbed shifts, a perennial task in unstable soils, and as the spring goes on, the tracks will be cleared and trued.
Administratively, the NWP had the news that former Assemblyman Dan Hauser of Eureka, who had been hired as the executive director for the North Coast Railroad Authority, has also become the general manager of the railroad as well. This was a response to the departure of the former general manager Ed McLaughlin. At the February NCRA meeting, the commissioners also decided to make every effort to consolidate and tighten operations in order to cut costs and function without debt. The long-awaited FEMA funds have finally come through, but the money had already been committed to several projects earlier.
The NCRA, in the interest of fiscal good sense, is considering proposals for property management of real estate owned by the line.
The REDWOOD ADVENTURER is tentatively scheduled to run from Healdsburg to Ukiah and back on Fridays, and to Willits and back on Saturdays and Sundays.
The new Adventurer is a throwback to the weekend excursion trains north of the Golden gate in the early years of the century. City-dwellers escaped to the fields and forests for a respite via the railroad, then returned to the weekly work schedule.
NWP's version emphasizes the wine country, known worldwide, and the track route along the Russian River. There is a long stopover in Hopland for the full tourist experience, and the train will include two dome cars to expand visibility.
In general, this plan is just what MCRS planned and dreamed about since 1988, and we are all elated that it will become a reality. Combining excursion trains with small-town charms can only benefit the region and its economy.
Santa ROSA DEPOT DEDICATION ON MAY 17
Mark this day on your calendar, it will be another great railroad event of the year!
The celebration is sponsored by the City of Santa Rosa's Cultural Heritage Board, the Historic Railroad Square Association, the Friends of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and the Greater Santa Rosa Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Festivities start at 10:00 a.m. with the Luther Burbank Rose Parade through downtown, and continue at the Julliard Park were craftspeople and food vendors offer their wares. Free Trolley rides take visitors from down- town to Railroad Square and back.
Highlights of the day for rail fans are NWP train rides from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg and back. The trains leave
from Santa Rosa at noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. For reservations call (707) 577-8674. The fare is $12.50 for adults
and $7.50 for children under twelve.
Officially, the depot opened on March 3 as the new home of the Greater Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, following an extensive historically sensitive restoration. The train depot was constructed by Italian stonemasons in 1904, replacing the original 1870 wooden structure, which burned in 903. It served as a passenger depot for the NWP until 1958, when the passenger service was abandoned up to Willits. It was vacant for the last fifteen years.
The depot was purchased by the City of Santa Rosa in 1993 from Southern Pacific, the parent company of the
Northwestern Pacific Railroad. With the help of a Federal Transit Administration grant of $400,000 and about $200,000 from the city's General Fund, restoration began in April of 1996. In addition, the city funded $160,000 in improvements to Depot Park and the depot parking lot Restoration included seismic bracing, replacement of the existing wood roof with slate (the original roofing material), modification for accessibility and code compliance, new underground utilities, restoration of the wood doors and windows, preservation of existing wainscoting and inside wall trim, restoration and repair of the stone work, and new interior finishes.
In addition to the Visitors Bureau, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society will transform the former ticket office/telegraph room of the depot by mid May into an interactive museum of children's activities and railroading exhibits, with an operational diorama of the depot area complete with model train and tracks, and rotating displays of Redwood
Empire railroading photos and memorabilia. Also, members of the historical society already have restored the existing
semaphore, which towers outside above the depot trackside.
Let's preserve those historic stations!
According to a recent article in the Healdsburg Tribune, par-
ticipants of a public meeting, concerning the future site of
the local train station in Healdsburg, favor its present location, south of downtown, near the Russian River. A $35,000 federal grant will pay for a study to compare four possible sites, including the present one.
A transit consultant and a committee, appointed by the City of Healdsburg, will work together on this project. When the
study is completed, another public hearing will be scheduled. We encourage our members and friends in the Healdsburg area to participate in the process and to support the existing site and restoration of the historic building.
Ed Nervo, a long-time railroad supporter and MCRS member, sent us a copy of his letter to the Healdsburg
newspaper, which pertains to this matter:
“The present venerable railroad depot on Harmon Street should be remodeled and used for future passenger-train service. Why build a new depot elsewhere when the present one is ideally located with plenty of parking space and no street crossings to block auto traffic.
Passenger trains stopped at the old location for some 80 years, and the restoration of the structure would seem a wise
move over an expensive new building nearer to downtown.”
MCRS agrees with Mr. Nervo, we couldn't have said it any better! Talking about historic railroad stations .... there is another one south, which seems to be completely forgotten! Recently, we stopped in Novato and looked at the old depot. It is a sorry sight to say the least! Are there no history buffs in the Novato area who could become instrumental in getting a restoration process started? This would be a very worthwhile effort!
Here is a quote from the March, 1994, "Headlight:
“ The passenger depot, however, is unique historically, is in better condition [than the old freight building], has a concrete foundation and sits higher on the ground. It could be repaired for a reasonable sum, about $75,000, according to one local architect.”
The adjacent freight building is historically even more interesting, dating back to the early days of railroading. One of the very few remaining original station structures of the style first used along most of the line, the Novato station may date back as far as 1870. The article in the "Headlight" mentions that "once funding is obtained, an exact copy of the freight building would be built."
Of course, it would be even more interesting if the
building could be restored as is. So why wait? Follow Santa Rosa's example and get on with it!
By William Ray
Both the Northwestern Pacific and California Western Railroads are struggling towards financial and safety standards that will inspire confidence.
In the short term the NWP is losing money, without the promised Federal funds needed to upgrade the rail beds and support the early stages of freight use. The situation has been somewhat embarrassing, in that numerous track repairs were required and met, and then more spots were inspected and must be brought up to standard. While freight is traveling at lower speeds, only about 5% of the lumber being milled in the north counties is going south by rail.
The lumber companies do not have full confidence in rail, and at the same time, they apparently want to keep some freight consignments going by rail, looking forward to a time when it will justify more use.
At the Willits yard, a collision accident occurred, injuring two engineers, with damage to two locomotives as well. The men and the machines will recover. Plans for the yard include a roundhouse. Willits had one when rail was the major transport for industry, forty years ago.
Finally, on the excursion train subject, complications with track safety necessitated canceling the weekend excursion trips from Healdsburg to Willits. More basic issues will have to be solved before the idea may come into use. Since the excursions are a major source of publicity and profit for the NWP, this is surely not the end of the story.
The NORTH COAST RAILROAD AUTHORITY met in Fortuna, Humboldt County, on August 20. Although the federal office of emergency (FEMA) is still holding back the emergency relief funds for last winter's storm damage, there was a positive development The California Office of Emergency Services has agreed to pay their share of disaster funding soon. (FEMA pays 75% and OES 25% of these funds.)
Assemblywoman Virginia Strom- Martin was instrumental in finally getting die money rolling! FEMA had delayed the release of the disaster funds because, supposedly, the railroad's
bookkeeping system did not allow to do a satisfactory audit. After looking into the matter, OES could "see nothing wrong with the railroad's books" and urged FEMA to check the books again.
However, FEMA inspectors have been busy checking out the damage to the tracks and one can hope that the money will finally come through. If the predictions about El Nino turn out to be true, we are in for a very wet winter and any preventive maintenance work that can be done in the next few months could make a big difference when the rains come.
By William Ray
In a road transportation-interest dominated climate not at all favorable to rail growth, the North Coast Railroad Authority took an inevitable step and privatized the operations of the NWP. This was the only viable alternative, when capitalization is not available from public funds. The NCRA voted in favor of Rail-Ways Inc., and a letter of intent will go out soon after a special NCRA meeting during the last week of January.
A few days after the January 14th meeting, the NCRA received the first installment of the state's share of the long-awaited disaster funds, a check for $237,000; and according to NCRA executive director Dan Hauser, up to $750,000 are expected within the very near future in total, which is about
25% of the state's relief money. The audits by FEMA should be completed by April or May. Then – as soon as the NCRA receives federal disaster funding – the NWP will have the capital to get back on a "smooth track". The NCRA also awarded a contract for a preliminary engineering study to Boyles Co. The funding comes from a $1.4 million ISTEA grant of which $300,000 will be used for the acquisition of a dome car and rehabilitation of the air-conditioning and electrical wiring of some passenger cars.
The overriding problem (no pun intended) remains the hypocritical attitude of the legislature - that the rail is a business that should break even. However, the massive road system in the state has never broken even, and the freeway system would collapse in a few years without the massive subsidies from the gas taxes and additional moneys from general funds, local, state and federal.
Public utilities universally get public support. The prevailing business attitude toward rail is negative; the citizen attitude is sympathetic. Until these different approaches are reconciled, the propaganda of the dominant interests will be pulling the rail line's brake, despite hopeful recent measures. Fortunately, we just received word, that the North Coast's Assemblywoman,
Virginia Strom-Martin, will introduce legislation to make rail eligible under the state's new transportation bill, SB 45.
Rail would qualify as a "Transportation Authority".
And here a quote from Dan Hauser pertaining to the recent heavy rains. "We've had a couple of minor problems, but nothing significant".
WILL SONOMA AND MARIN
VOTE FOR RAIL ?
Sonoma County residents, tired of chronic commuter backups, may envision positive changes on the horizon with the introduction of the $900 million transit plan engineered by
Berkeley-based planning consultant Peter Calthorpe; it boasts additional lanes and a 53 miles Light Rail system between Healdsburg and Larkspur, among other road improvements. If
everything goes according to plan, those improvements will be funded at least partially by a local sales-tax increase.
Six months ago, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors instructed a coalition to begin working on the
wording of a local sales-tax ballot measure. The text of that initiative will be reviewed March 17 by the supes, who have until August to add it to the November ballot They probably won't act without the approval of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, comprised of three supes and a
representative from each municipality in neighboring Marin County. The 25 member Marin Transportation steering
committee - which includes elected officials, environmental and business leaders, an educator, a housing advocate, and various other citizens, has had the tough task of Grafting a
widely accepted sales-tax measure to raise money for transportation improvements.
In a tentative proposal, Marin County's share is approximately $300 million expected to be raised by the
sales-tax, which will be split as follows: $75 million for the rail system, $70 million to improve bus service, $35 million for local street improvements, $35 million to add a car-pool lane in San Rafael, $10 million for bike trails, $15 million for
the transit for the disabled, $5 million for administration and $55 million for open space acquisition.
Thanks to Sonoma County Independent staff writer Paula Harris for this excerpted article.
THE NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD NEEDS OUR SUPPORT
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad is in jeopardy of cessation of service if the CALIFORNIA TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION denies the North Coast Railroad Authority's repayment plan for the Q-funds. If this happens, the railroad could lose Federal ISTEA funds, which could, in effect, shut the railroad down, creating a devastating effect on our economy.
The railroad is fighting battles on many fronts! If you want to be a part of the solution by protecting our economic base for the entire North Coast, here is what you can do ....
* Write and call the California Transportation Commissioners and your elected officials TODAY!
* Tell your business associates, friends and family members to write or call the California Transportation Commissioners and your elected officials TODAY!
* Attend the CTC Hearings on March 31 and April 1.
END OF THE LINE?
Many responded to our March newsletter with calls and letters to the California Transportation Commission in support of the NWP for the upcoming San Francisco meeting on March 31. We thank you all for your help and are sure that the positive response of the commissioners was partly achieved because of your efforts. But now, more than three months later, the mood at the latest North Coast Railroad Authority meeting on July 15 in Willits was somber. The FEMA and ISTEA funds are still not released dragged out by bureaucratic delay tactics. And this means, of course, that the railroad if still in financial trouble.
This also delays the engineering study by the Boyles Company. Most likely the work cannot be done until spring - leaving the tracks again in a vulnerable state during another winter.
Also in jeopardy is the acquisition of a 'Dome Car'. Unless the money is available soon, the opportunity for this purchase is lost Mr. Darling, the president of Railways Inc., the new private operator, made it clear, that his company will not be able to keep going unless they get reimbursed for their expenses soon which by now amount to about $3 million. So far, Railways Inc. has only an interim contract with the NWP. Most likely, the final contract will be signed after the August NCRA meeting. Mr. Darling told the commissioners, that a 90-day deadline will be part of their contract. If by that time the ISTEA funds have not come through. Railways Inc. has to pull out.
So, here we go again - the situation seems to be just as dismal as it was in early spring! Unless the ISTEA and FEMA funds are released soon the railroad is doomed. During the NCRA meeting, Chairman Ruth Rockefeller voiced her frustration and anger about the present situation, and mentioned that she had written an article (See below) explaining the problems in detail. She announced her intention to attend the CTC meeting in Sacramento the next day. Although presentation by the NCRA was not on the agenda Ruth planned to speak during the public input period.
MCRS applauds Ruth Rockefeller for telling it as it is. The public needs to know what's going on - there are forces at work that have decided to destroy our railroad!
By Ruth Rockefeller, NCRA Chairman
"NCRA Defaults on City Loan" and “Ukiah, Willits Depots Hit With Foreclosure." These recent headlines signaling the North Coast Railroad Authority's inability to meet a loan payment to the City of Willits will quite rightly concern North Coast residents who understand that a healthy Northwestern Pacific Railroad is vital to the economy of the region. (The Authority is one of two owners of the NWP. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority is the other with the ownership split at Healdsburg.) The concerned citizen might be shocked to learn that the news has undoubtedly been received in some high places with great glee.
"We're finally going to kill the “blankety-blank railroad" would sum up their reaction. Whose reaction?
Some state and federal bureaucrats, and some veterans of the old Southern Pacific railroad (SP), now ensconced in the Union Pacific, who have never forgotten that they failed to abandon the Northwestern Pacific in the early Eighties. (Some is the operative word here, not all.)
If any astute reader thinks that "abandon the NWP" is an error and that the phrase should read "abandon the north end from Willits to Eureka," abandonment of the entire line was the SP plan. This scheme was thwarted by the failure to shuck off the north end, thanks to an outpouring of support from local residents and a masterful fight led by the California Public Utilities Commission - the good guys in the white hats.
The hatred engendered by that failure in 1984 was intensified when the NCRA was able to buy the north end out of bankruptcy in 1992, using Proposition 116 funds for the $5.2 million purchase of 160 miles of railroad, rolling stock and numerous structures. (The going price at that time for a single freeway overpass was about $5 million.)
This brought some bureaucrats in line with the SP hate squad and has resulted in what Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin recently termed "bureaucratic dithering". A better term might be "bureaucratic roadkill".
In 1995, Caltrans produced a document entitled "Evaluations of the North Coast Railroad contributions to the Regional Economy and the transportation Network". It came to the erroneous conclusion that the North Coast Railroad's contributions to the economy and the transportation network were negligible, based on nonexistent "facts". (The North Coast Railroad was the name of the line from Willits to Eureka under NCRA ownership. It went out of existence in 1996 when the south and north ends were joined and good guys left at Southern Pacific permitted the use of the eight-decade-old name Northwestern Pacific.)
Caltrans' 1995 "hit piece" was thoroughly discredited at the time. Amazingly it surfaced again in 1997 at a Round Table discussion of the line organized by the CPUC and moderated by State Senator Mike Thompson. The "evaluation" was refuted one more time. Incredibly it surfaced in February of this year. This time the refutation came in the form of a 21-page study prepared by Dr. Daniel M. lhara, an economist and economics professor at Humboldt State University.
At present, Caltrans is holding hostage $4.3 million in ISTEA monies, desperately needed for the rehabilitation of the NWP. Alert readers will recall that ISTEA is a federal program and my wonder how Caltrans can block the flow of federal money. The answer is that the ISTEA funds are channeled through the state bureaucracy. At this moment, Caltrans is stalling the award of the money by determining that the NCRA is a "high risk" agency. The "information" has been passed along to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and to the California Office of Emergency Services (OES), now holding some $9 millions in payments to the NCRA for flood damages to the railroad over several years.
FEMA has devised its own program of bureaucratic roadkill.
The federal bureaucracy has subpoenaed financial records of the NCRA for a federal grand jury investigation of the NCRA. After an embarrassing leak to the press about the investigation (with no blame for the leak attributed to FEMA), the federal agency assured the NCRA that the records could be examined on site in Eureka with copies made as necessary.
This has not been the case. The records have been taken to Oakland with copies Fed-Exed back to Eureka. This presents a problem for independent auditors trying to complete the audits of NCRA records.
The bright side, it would seem, is that in audits completed by FEMA, no trace of fraud by the NCRA was found. Rumors about fraud had circulated in Washington, D.C., for several months, costing the NCRA the support of its legislators. Nor, according to FEMA, does the Grand Jury investigation involve the NCRA, but instead "a former official and contractor" possibly involved in questionable activities.
To get back to the default on the loan to the City of Willits. This is the third loan made by the City to the Authority. The first two were repaid promptly. The failure to meet the current obligation is just one indication of how serious the problem is. Ironically, the future could appear promising if the immediate financial blockages could be solved.
A long haul waste contract out of Humboldt county, the potential to ship gravel to the south end of the railroad where it is needed for construction and a competent private operator ready to take over operations and maintenance hold out hope for future economic stability. There has to be a way to get the killers off the road.
By Ruth Rockefeller, written two days after her return from the CTC meeting in Sacramento.
My surprise appearance before the California
Transportation Commission July 16 has triggered some
interesting reactions, not the least important of which is
the previously obscured fact that Caltrans calls the shots,
not the California Transportation Commission, the body
charged with oversight of Caltrans.
This became apparent when I spoke during the "other
matters" portion of the CTC agenda. I reminded the
Commission that when we had appeared before them on
March 31 of this year, we had been told to return if the
$4.3 million ISTEA funds allotted to the NCRA was not
released by Caltrans.
I was told by the Chair, Robert Wolf, very courteously that it was not up to the CTC but to Caltrans to release the funds. The essence of his excuse was that the CTC can only suggest action to Caltrans, not direct it!
He further added that NCRA has some legal problems that had been discussed in closed session and until they were resolved, Caltrans would probably not release the funding.
I could not find out what legal problems were discussed - or rather, what CTC thinks they are.
The next day, July 17, James Van Loben Sels, Caltrans director, faxed a letter to Dan Hauser, NCRA executive director, setting out more conditions for NCRA to meet, in addition to those already stipulated and impossible to comply with, given NCRA's limited staff and lack of funds. In some circles, this is known as moving the goal posts.
$2 Million saves the NWP!!
On September 29, Governor Pete Wilson signed AB 2782, which will allocate $2 million to the North Coast Railroad Authority! The money will make it possible for the NCRA to meet Caltrans' conditions - detailed audits of their books, installing a new accounting system, etc. Only then will Caltrans release funds from ISTEA (Federal Transportation Bill), OES (State Office of Emergency Service) and FEMA, which, in turn, will enable the NCRA to pay off their debts and do the repairs to open the northern end of me line between Willits and Eureka, which is still closed since January. It appears as if the Northwestern Pacific Railroad has finally seen the light at he end of the tunnel!
But, there are still some hurdles to overcome. The NCRA will not receive the $2 million until the money has been approved by the California Transportation Commission at its meeting on October 26 and 27 in Santa Cruz. The next step would be the final release of the $4.3 million of ISTEA funds, which had already been promised by the CTC in April. Again, your letters, faxes and phone calls are needed. It is already October and the rainy season will start soon. Therefore, the railroad needs the money now. Let's bombard the CTC and Caltrans with requests to release the ISTEA funding AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and to speed up the release of the OES and FEMA funds.
Excerpts from “It’s your railroad too!”
By Ruth Rockefeller, Chair, North Coast Railroad Authority
A permanent loss of rail freight and future passenger service to Northwestern California will mean the following to California's citizens:
* The NCRA will not be able to pay contractual debts
assumed in the public process of acquiring the line. This will involve the Q Fund Loan for which the State of California will ultimately become responsible.
* The NWP, from 1914 to the present, has been responsible for maintaining drainage ways along the 300 miles of railroad. With over 2,000 culverts along the line this has been, and will remain, a never-ending task. Along the Eel and Russian River watersheds of the line, Federal and State environmental consequences must be addressed financially by the appropriate State Agencies involved. It has been estimated that the cost of restoring the Eel River canyon to its original state will be between $150 and $200 million.
* Highway 101, from nearly the Oregon border to the Bay Area, will be heavily impacted by additional heavy truck traffic. Some 20,000 additional such truck shipments yearly can be expected from the loss of rail freight service in the 6-County area affected. Further highway impacts will occur on other State routes including 299, 128, 29 and 20. Highway costs can be expected to increase in the following areas:
a. Increased pavement deterioration.
b. Higher per mile maintenance costs.
c. Safety costs due to increased truck accidents.
d. Increased highway service congestion in
* The region's traditional economy based on timber, agricultural, mining and manufacturing concerns will be the first to suffer the loss of rail freight service. When long haul low cost transportation services cease to exist, many timber mills and other firms will downsize and dose. The North Coast will lose its ability to compete with other areas that retain low cost long haul freight service.
* As private industries suffer the increased transportation costs in the Region, they will pass these costs on to the consumers and will reduce employment to remain profitable. Upward timber costs will extend to Southern California as much of the North Coast timber is consumed in that area of the State.
* A recent California Public Utilities Commission
Oversight Report on the future of the NWP noted that hundreds of job losses can be expected in various sections of the North Coast economy should the NWP be allowed to fail. The report was dated November 1997.
* Large, heavy and bulky items such as electrical
transformers, steam boilers and cogeneration units can no longer be shipped to the region. The State highway system is not constructed to carry rail type heavy axle loading.
* The large aggregate deposits located in the Eel River basin will no longer have access to low cost rail transportation. This basic building material will be denied to builders in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Construction costs can be expected to rise, as this rock must be trucked in from other sources with the additional expense passed on to the public.
* A reduction of industrial production on the North
Coast will lead to the State collecting fewer taxes from the Region. A tax-producing region will transform into a tax-consuming Region. The State can expect increased unemployment costs, higher social costs, and in all likelihood, increased crime in the area as workers compete for scarcer jobs with which to feed families.
* The North Coast is an area of exceptional beauty and thousands of U.S. citizens visit the Region yearly for recreational purposes. As one example, some 100,000 visitors come to ride the world famous SKUNK train service that operates between Willits and Fort Bragg each year. This service would also be impacted by a shut down of the NWP. While the seaports of San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland are participating in increased Pacific Rim foreign trade shipments, the Port of Humboldt Bay in Eureka can never hope to participate in such trade without a rail connection to the outside world. That connection is the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.
* Lastly and most importantly, many North Coast businesses in the recent past have contributed services to the NWP consisting of supplies, fuel and other operating necessities on the expectation mat me public railroad would make good on those debts. A bankruptcy of this carrier will shake public confidence in a State government that does not pay its rightful public bills.
1. How can we abandon the line just a few weeks before two major transportation measures in Sonoma and Marin will be voted on that would raise about $200 million for commute rail on the NWP if passed? Sure, for some time this service would only operate on the southern part of the line - from Santa Rosa to San Rafael in the beginning and later from Cloverdale to Larkspur - but continued freight service on the whole line will be essential to the financial success of the proposed service.
2. The rail line has the same capacity as highway 101 and if used efficiently, can considerably relief the traffic in the North Coast counties.
3. Trains are much safer than cars and use less fuel.
4. California is earthquake country! Each major earthquake in recent years showed that rail service was operating almost immediately after the initial shock, while it took weeks, months or even years to rebuild roads and bridges. If a major earthquake should occur again, the railroad could be the only dependable mode of transportation left. So, please, write a few more letters, make a few more phone calls and send a few more faxes, to your representatives for the local, state and federal governments. Urge them to release the ISTEA and FEMA funds and demand that the railroad will be treated as an equal to the roads.
Hard Traveling For the Railroad
By William Ray
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad is in dire straits, especially along the circuitous Eel River. But according to the Federal Railroad Administration, the line south of Willits is also not up to their standards and they closed it down on November 26th, because many crossing signals don't function and the tracks are in bad repair.
There seems to be no sympathy and intent from Caltrans to assist this vital alternative to road transport. Early this month, however, Rail-Ways Inc. agreed to start repairs on the signals, hoping to be repaid out of FEMA funds soon. The reimbursement process is as good as a sword in the side, because the payback could take months.
The NWP thus remains in paralysis unless and until Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission are convinced or told to put rehabilitative funds into the line, and until there is sufficient safety in the restoration, or daily functions like signal lights and arms, so that the State would be willing to move in and provide funding. The dilemma is that there is no money to get up to the safe standards. The threshold is barred by no working capital in the railroad itself. $160,000 for crossing signal repairs doesn't exist The railroad has risked foreclosure on the loan made by the City of Willits and stands to lose its collateral, the historical Willits depot It is clearly a case of need for government intervention. Since State Senator Mike Thompson will take office as our new Congressman in Washington by January, it is a reasonable possibility that he can get funds on a grant basis. Thompson is a staunch rail supporter, which was very evident during the Ukiah meeting in November.
FEMA has been looking over the NWP’s accounts, and is cautious about releasing money to "restore" the badly dilapidated line and grades, when it sees so much unfinished work, work that the State so far has not actively sought to commit to doing. In such a climate of do-nothingism, leadership is the only answer. While Caltrans and the CTC balk at repairing the railroad, it rebuilds enormously expensive road sites every winter. Perhaps Governor-Elect Gray Davis can have some influence changing the State's attitude, and incoming Congressman Mike Thompson will do his part on the federal level. Since Rail-Ways, Inc. is negotiating with FRA officials, to reopen the line and thus generate funding for day to day operations, Thompson can use the bully pulpit of politics to break the paralysis. FEMA, likewise, does not want to move, unless pressured by power. The State may be influenced to fulfill its mandate to support rail with the help of Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin and newly elected State Senator Wes Chesbro and other pro-rail legislators - rail being the only alternative in these mountainous counties to a road system that on the same ground has never worked reliably, with all the money in me world.
At the December 16 NCRA meeting in Santa Rosa, Rail-Ways Inc.'s President Darling explained how the track from Willits south could be brought up to Class I standards - one of the FRA's conditions before the line could be reopened. If the money - $857,000 – were available and work started at the beginning of January, it could be completed by March 5.
Fortunately, FEMA will release the reimbursement funds for the repair work from last spring at he southern end very soon. But other FEMA funds are still hanging in the air. The agency has offered three options to the NCRA and they are not acceptable and more negotiations are needed. And the ISTEA funds still have not come through because Caltrans is not satisfied with the NCRA's business plan and in order to comply with their demands and to have a chance to get the ISTEA money soon, the commissioners - although reluctantly - go along with Caltrans' request, which will cost them another $20,000. At a time when we were cautiously optimistic finally "seeing some light at the end of the tunnel", the various agencies again found ways to block the opening. Precious time will be wasted with more meetings. In the interim, the highways suffer from increased truck traffic. Because of me NWP’s shutdown, CWR cannot haul Georgia Pacific's lumber, instead it is trucked to Vallejo, and of course. Highways 101 and 37 are affected as well.
The October 19 meeting in Ukiah was a great success. The Ukiah City Hall auditorium was packed. Rail supporters had come from everywhere. Actually, it was not just another railroad meeting, it was a State Senate Transportation Subcommittee hearing, chaired extremely well by State Senator Quentin Kopp. During the morning, testimony from several state agencies was heard, but the afternoon session - which lasted until 4:00 p.m. - was set aside for the public and one speaker after the other stressed the importance of the NWP for the North Coast counties.
Neither FEMA nor the State Transportation Commission participated. Copies of a letter by the CTC's Chair Robert Wolf - in lieu of his presence - to Senator Kopp were distributed to the public. It contained some completely untrue statements concerning the NWP's past that were inferring to the railroad's present problems. Most people who had attended the meeting went home with a feeling of hope. At the following monthly CTC meeting in Santa Cruz, Senator Kopp again stressed how important the survival of the NWP is for the North Coast counties.
Two very interesting Caltrans studies - of March and October 1998 - were just released to the public. They describe Humboldt's County urgent need for the continuation of the NWP. The studies counter the opinion of t hose who would dismiss the importance of the NWP or who might seek to cut off the line north of Willits.
Rumors about the NWP-supporting nature of this study were already heard several months ago, but there seemed to be reluctance to release the information. It was Senator Quentin Kopp who requested the release from Caltrans after the study was referred to during the Ukiah meeting in October.
The NCRA and many NWP supporters believe that the line is vital to the North Coast transportation system, and the belatedly released Caltrans information comes to the same conclusion. A survey of shippers showed that rail transportation was less expensive and more convenient for several reasons, and if the service were more reliable, they would ship by rail year round. Until the line was shut down at the end of November, some Humboldt County shippers would transload from trucks to rail in Willits, others truck their freight on Highway 299 to Redding and transloaded there to the Union Pacific line. Trucking in general is more expensive than rail shipping – especially in areas where the longer trucks are prohibited, and backhauls are difficult to get, which applies to Highway 101 in Humboldt County and Highway 299. Transloading resulted in a price increase of $200 for a railcar from Eureka to Suisun via Willits. Transloading in Redding would be $350 higher, but UP is subsidizing the cost, thus making it $100 lower than transloading in Willits. Nevertheless, the Humboldt shippers would prefer a rail connection in Eureka, naturally.
During the past two months, the North Coast Railroad Authority and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad again had their share of problems. Heavy rains in February caused flooding and damage to the tracks at the south end near Shellville, but fortunately, the work from last year paid off and the repairs didn't take too much time and effort. This happened just about at the time when the Herzog Company started with NCRA's Phase I project, bringing the tracks south of Willits up to Class I standard as requested by the Federal Railways Administration, before freight trains can operate again. As we mentioned in our last newsletter, this work had been expected to be completed by March 5, but didn't get started early enough to meet that timeline. The major reason for the delay was the lack of funding. At the January NCRA meeting we learned that the estimated cost for the entire project was about $1 million. $750,000 - the leftover portion of Mendocino and Humboldt County 's 116 funds - was intended to be used for this project. The remaining $250,000 were promised as matching funds by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority, the owners of the southern end of the line from Healdsburg to Lombard. (NWPRA includes representatives from Sonoma, Marin, the Golden Gate Bridge District and the NCRA).
Although the NWPRA voted in favor of using this money for the project, the money is slow in coming. The same is true for the $750,000. At their February meeting, the California Transportation Commission allocated the 116 funds for the track work south of Willits, but they have not been released yet by Caltrans. Again, your participation will help the railroad: write an encouraging, positive letter to Jose Medina, the new director of Caltrans. Ask him to expedite the release of the $750,000 to the NCRA. Also, stress the importance of a more balanced perspective in selecting new commissioners on the CTC, and of course, also stress the importance of the NWP to the North Coast.
If things are going well and the weather cooperates, the project could be completed some time in April. The first inspection by the FRA has already been done at Shellville. The next inspection will be at Petaluma, including a repeated inspection of the first section which still needed some additional work. If the tracks up to Petaluma pass the next FRA inspection, freight shipping could be resumed from there.
Phase II will be the work planned over a year ago - the engineering study by Boyle and the resulting higher level of rehabilitation work. $8.6 million of ISTEA funding has been promised to the NCRA for this project. So far, $4 to $5 million with matching funds of 25% are available as soon as the CTC will release the money. Most of Phase II is concerned
with the southern part of the line, but part of it might include work on the northern end later on.
Phase II is concerned with the line from Willits to Eureka. It is estimated that $2 to $3 million might be needed. This part of the line has been closed since the end of January 1998. The northern part from Eureka to Fort Seward is operable for freight trains, but the southern part of the canyon needs a lot of work. FEMA is not allowing any money for this part of the line, but the NCRA is appealing their decision. However, it could take several years before money from this source becomes available and the NCRA is looking at other possibilities. They consider applying for NDAA funds (Natural Disaster Assistance Act funds), which are provided through a state program for public facilities.
At a recent meeting in Sacramento - attended by lawmakers, their aides and several NCRA commissioners - the atmosphere was definitely "railroad-friendly". The new State Senator for the North Coast, Wes Chesbro, stressed his support for the NWP, and Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin - who has been extremely helpful to the NCRA in many instances - continues to work as a champion for the railroad. Newly elected Assemblywoman Pat Wiggins is also very supportive. We hope that other lawmakers in Sacramento also will finally understand that a railroad cannot fulfill a mandate without finances in place, and that Governor Gray Davis' administration will allow the railroad its fair share to survive and eventually prosper.
Also allocated to the NCRA at the February CTC meeting were $500,000, part of the $2 million asked for by former State Senator Mike Thompson in his bill 2782, which Governor Wilson had signed at the last minute. Although there are some strings attached, this money should also be available soon. An application for the remainder of the of the $2 million is in the works and should reach the CTC soon. It will be used to hire and pay for an NCRA Director. The commission is taking great pains to find the best person possible for the job. Advertising has just started, interviews are planned for April and selection is expected in May.
After several lawmakers had met in Sacramento recently (See previous story), they sent a strong letter to the Chairman of the California Transportation Commission, Edward Sylvester, with copies to Caltrans Director Jose Medina, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee Betty Kamette and Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee Tom Torlakson. The letter urged the CTC to finally release the remainder of the $2 million from the 2872 funds to the NCRA. So far, the NCRA has received about $500,000.
The letter was signed by Assembly members Virginia Strom-Martin, Fred Keeley, Pat Wiggins, Kerry Mazzoni and Senators Wes Chesbro and John Burton. Additional support came in a united front from Humboldt County. A resolution of the Eureka City Council, which strongly supports the NCRA and the NWP, was also signed by many other Humboldt County agencies: the Board of Supervisors, the Arcata, Blue Lake, Eureka, Rio Dell, Ferndale and Trinidad City Councils as well as the Chambers of Commerce of Garberville, Rio Dell-Scotia, Fortuna, Ferndale, Eureka, Trinidad and Arcata.
New Rail Measures for Marin and Sonoma
After the defeat of the transportation measures in November, there were many disappointed people in both counties. Many had worked for years hoping to make commuter rail service a reality. Since then, many new options have been discussed and thrown around, but so far, no specific steps have been taken. Wilbur Smith Associates have recently completed the first phase of a rail plan - a cost estimate for upgrading the tracks to Class III from Larkspur to Cloverdale. At a meeting of the Sonoma and Marin Area RailTransit Planning Group (SMART) on March 10 in Petaluma, Richard Towers of Wilbur Smith adjusted the original cost estimate of $50 million - which had included the tracks to Lombard- down to $36 million, from Cloverdale to Larkspur only. If one considers that $28 million in 116 funds for commuter rail are available for Sonoma and Marin County, the goal to establish passenger rail service gains reality. The following article from 'Progressive Railroading' shows what can be done - fast - if there is a will, a way and the MONEY!
"Late last month, Burlington Northern/Santa Fe completed a massive $11 million track and bridge maintenance project in less than two weeks. The blitz came on NBNSF's main line between Bakersfield, Calif., and Fresno, Calif.
The 120-mile stretch was closed to all freight traffic January 18 and reopened January 30, work that could have been spread across many months was completed in a compressed time frame to minimize problems.
During the blitz, maintenance crews laid six track miles of new steel rail and installed about 76,000 wood cross ties. Additionally, 100 track miles were resurfaced and the ballast was cleaned or replaced. Forty highway-rail grade crossings along the route also were improved."
If a similar speed were adopted in establishing commuter rail for Sonoma and Marin, we could eventually see things moving right along. With the tracks already in place and no need for land acquisition problems, why does it have to take that long? Let's hope that the NWP will receive more support from Governor Davis' administration; this would certainly help getting things done faster and better.
GOOD NEWS AT LAST!
For a very considerable time, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad seemed doomed. Caltrans had abandoned it; the financial capacity of the line was exhausted; winter weather had jeopardized the line to the point that all authorities could not support continued use. But finally it seems to be understood by the political forces that the railroad is a public utility; it cannot survive without State and Federal support, just as the road system could not survive the winter without continued funding.
During the last two months, meetings of the North Coast Railroad Authority, Railways Inc., FEMA and the OES (California Office of Emergency Services) have resulted in the release of up to $12 million by FEMA. This money will be used to repair about 130 sites of tracks between the Bay Area and Eureka. If everything goes well, Hertzog Construction's crews could reach Willits within 45 days. In the meantime, Railways Inc., the private freight operator, intends to resume freight operations in increments as soon as the Federal Railroad Administration approves the track work from the south up.
California Western Railroad is also looking forward to freight shipping from Willits again. As we mentioned in our December newsletter, CWR's freight operations from Fort Bragg came to a halt when the FRA embargoed the NWP tracks last November. This resulted in a substantial financial loss for the company. The FRA's embargo also prevented the CWR from operating their passenger trips to Willits during the two weeks of Easter, because the CWR uses some of the NWP tracks coming in to Willits. Maintenance crews were busy in April and May to repair the tracks, and finally, the FRA lifted the embargo in Willits and the summer schedule started as planned on May 29 with two daily trains from Fort Bragg and Willits to Northspur, the half-way point of the line.
Opening up the Eel River Canyon to Eureka is expected to take until the end of the year. But with everybody (NCRA, Railways Inc., OES and FEMA)
Working well together now, it looks as if even this last obstacle will eventually be overcome. The NCRA commissioners, as well as the elected officials who have worked so hard to help the railroad, are all elated that things are finally moving. Here are some comments: Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, "It's about time. I am thrilled they (NCRA) are finally going to get it (the FEMA money)." State Senator Wes Chesbro, "It is a big step forward for the North Coast economy." Congressman Mike Thompson, "To date, this is the largest step of many steps needed to get this critical railroad running again."
Nancy Ward, chief of disaster assistance programs for the OES: "We are very, very proud of the railroad and all the work they've done with state and federal agencies to restore the railroad. We are confident the system they have now is able to handle all the monitoring and tracking of the disaster assistance dollars. This is a huge milestone." - An excellent, detailed article in the Los Angeles Times alerted the attention of many people, which also probably helped getting things moving.
And more good news - the hiring of an executive director for the NCRA, which was announced last week. Max H. Bridges will begin his new job on July 26. A civil engineer, he brings along 30 years of experience in public works engineering and management. A native of Eureka, he served as the director of public works for Del Norte County from 1983 to 1988. At present, he is the director of public works of San Benito County, as well as the executive director of San Benito's Council of Governments. We congratulate the NCRA for finding such a capable person and extend our best wishes to Mr. Bridges for his new job.
In addition, the NCRA has made a move to pay off some of their vendors. They offered two options to those to whom they owed $3,000 or less: to pay now a flat fee of $1,000 as a "full and final payment", or pay 10% of the money owed now and the rest when the "NCRA identifies another funding source for this purpose".
MCRS circulated petitions in support of the NWP since April, mainly in the four North Coast counties. The drive has been very successful, so far we have gathered about 2,500 signatures which will help our legislators to secure financial assistance for the railroad. Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin had tried to include $12 million for the rehabilitation of the Eel River in the Governor's budget, but this item was pulled. There is a chance that this item might be included in a trailer bill later this summer. Please call Assemblywoman Strom-Martin's office and express your support. We have printed a plea for support for the NWP. Please sign it and send it back ASAP to us, we will include it with the petitions when we turn them over to our legislators.
And last, but not least - we want to thank all of you who have supported the NCRA and the NWP during the last few years with letters, phone calls and faxes to our legislators, to Caltrans, to FEMA. the FRA, OES and the California Transportation Commission. Your involvement was extremely helpful and we all can be proud of what we accomplished!
Dedication of Cloverdale Depot
The weather was perfect - a beautiful spring day - when Cloverdale's new train depot was dedicated on May. There was music and there were flowers, and many cheerful faces. A festive crowd had gathered for celebration, friends and supporters the railroad. They listened attentively as speaker after speaker promised work hard for a stable future of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, to benefit of all the North Coast counties up and down the line. Only the arriving and departing trains were missing! However, designed as an intermodal center, the new depot has already been serving purpose for many months as passenger transfer point for the buses from the Sonoma County Transit, City of Cloverdale, Mendocino Transit Authority, Amtrak, Greyhound Mendocino Disabled Veteran's Van. Many thanks to the folks from Sonoma County Transit for making the depot a reality - you did a great job!
Here are a few items dating back to the time when "real" trains came through Cloverdale on a daily schedule: From the 'Mendocino dispatch-Democrat', May 26, 1899:
"The excursion to this city from San Francisco last Sunday was one of largest that ever came to Ukiah. There were two trains of ten cars each, containing in all over 1,100 people. The personnel of the crowd was far better than the average, there being but few rowdies. Once here, the excursionists soon scattered, visiting the Fish hatchery, the Asylum and Vichy Springs."
Goal Posts are moved again!
It's been almost a year now since the NWP was embargoed by the FRA. Remember when the initial dates for a possible reopening of the tracks were being mentioned ? First it was supposed to be April, then May, next came August, and then... for sure!... October. It's October now and we just learned that the work on the Shellville/Petaluma section didn't pass the latest FRA inspection. One item was the request for additional ties, and there was also a problem with drainage issues that needed to be addressed.
Hopefully, representatives from Railways Inc., Herzog Construction Company and the FRA have settled the matter in the meantime. But because of the extra work, the process has been delayed and the reopening of the line is now expected in November for the Shellville/Petaluma section and in DECEMBER for Willits. That means that it took over 12 months to repair the 130 miles of tracks. If the transcontinental railroad - which reached San Francisco in 1869 - had been built with the same “speed", it would have taken about NINETEEN years instead of six. And at that time it was not only repair of the tracks but a complete new line. Besides, it was 130 years ago, and most of the work was done with pickax and shovel! We don't mention this to criticize the company who is doing the work. On the contrary, we are sure their workers are doing the best job possible under the circumstances. What is holding up this job is the bureaucratic delay of funds, and that is very frustrating, considering how fast we could do such a job nowadays having all that sophisticated machinery available!
In April, when we realized that various governmental agencies were repeatedly stalling the repair work and that help was needed to speed up the process, we started a petition drive in support of the NCRA and the NWP. It yielded about 2,600 signatures. Humboldt County was leading with 745 signatures, followed by Mendocino County and Sonoma County with 725 and 408 signatures respectively. The rest came from adjacent counties. The petitions were turned over to Assemblywoman Virginia Strom- Martin's office. Yet despite the support from so many people, the process is moving at snail's pace. How much longer are we going to accept this kind of treatment? If you feel as frustrated as we do, pick up your phone right now and call our legislators, send them a letter or a fax!
The other bad news concerns the federal ISTEA funds (about $8 million). Caltrans had promised to release these funds for an engineering study and track improvement south of Willits as soon as the rehabilitation work requested by the FRA would be completed. Caltrans now wants to wait with the release of this money until the line from Willits to Eureka has opened again, which would be at the least another 8 months in the future. Fortunately, Caltrans seems to have second thoughts on this issue and is going to revisit its position. It would be unfair to NWP customers on the south end to deprive them of speedier shipping made available though better track conditions.
Why is it possible that Caltrans has absolute control over federal money? Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask our representatives in Washington to intervene! (Congressman Thompson, Congresswoman Woolsey, Senators Feinstein and Boxer). Max Bridges, NCRA's new executive director, will move into his office at the recently dedicated Cloverdale depot this week. We wish him well and hope that NCRA's presence at the depot signals a new, constructive period for the NWP.
At the last NCRA meeting, California Redwood Coast Company's contract to run the NWP's passenger excursion service, was extended for another three years. California Western Railroad's offer to take over this service was not accepted by the NCRA.
NCRA and NWP Update: Our headline in our October newsletter on this topic was "Goal Posts are moved again!" And we had pointed out how these "goal posts" had been moved from month to month, but that finally the money had come through, the work was progressing and the line was expected to reopen to Willits. Well, you guessed it, the goal posts are further out again! Again, release of funding for the ongoing repair came to a halt. The State Office of Emergency Services has apparently all kinds of reasons why the money cannot be released at this point to finish the work. Bureaucratic delay, that's what it is. So at this time everything has come to a standstill. Hertzog Construction company has not done any work on the tracks for weeks now, and the opening dates for Petaluma or Willits have moved into the future. When? Nobody knows, we can only hope. There is nothing going to happen for the rest of the year - the rest of the millennium. Max Bridges, the new executive director of the NCRA, has spent endless hours in meetings since this happened. But unfortunately, he had nothing positive to report when we contacted him. There is a chance that the agencies might advance some of the money that is owed to the railroad. Director Bridges hopes for a break in January. Again, letters, faxes and phone calls to the OES and FEMA are urgently needed!
We are sad to report that Ruth Rockefeller and Dave Nelson have resigned from the North Coast Railroad Authority. Ruth's dedication to the railroad's survival and Dave's expert advice as attorney will be sorely missed.
It will be difficult to think of the NCRA and the NWP without Ruth's name coming to one's mind, because she has been 'working for the railroad' for many years. And we regret losing another lawyer on the NCRA (Mr. Stokes from Humboldt County also resigned). Thank you, Ruth and Dave, we gratefully appreciate your efforts!
Following Ruth Rockefeller’s resignation, the Times-Standard in Eureka honored her with the following editorial:
If we were to seek an illustration of how much effect an obscure private citizen can still have in our society, we could offer no batter example than that of Ruth Rockefeller of Willits.
Despite her well-known name, she is neither wealthy nor famous. She is a retired elementary school teacher, the widow of a small businessman. And while she was undoubtedly an excellent teacher, her most outstanding service to her community came at a time in life when most people are devoting their flagging energies to gardening or needlework.
Instead, Ruth Rockefeller saved the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.
She didn't do it alone, of course. But over the course of the past decade, nobody has devoted more effort over a longer period of time to rescuing the railroad. She was instrumental in forming the public agency that took over the bankrupt line, and she is the only member of the North Coast Railroad Authority that has served since its inception.
When the agency was formed in 1989, the North Coast's only rail link appeared headed for the scrap yard. The Southern Pacific, its former owner, no longer found the line profitable following the end of the postwar lumber boom. Long before they sold it to a private entrepreneur, they ceased all but the most cursory maintenance. The new owner went bankrupt, and during the years the line was in receivership, its assets were sold off and its tracks and equipment were allowed to deteriorate further. Trustees proposed to sell the rails for scrap.
The public authority was formed at a time when "privatization" was the political rage, and was viewed with skepticism, if not downright hostility, in some quarters. The state legislature appropriated money to buy the line, but former Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed operating funds to run it.
It has taken tremendous effort and dedication by a great many people to hold the enterprise together, repair much of the track and roadbed, and resolve structural and environmental problems caused by two decades of neglect. And just when financial stability at last seemed in sight, a succession of catastrophic storms wrecked much of what had been accomplished.
Rockefeller not only helped create the rail authority, she chaired it through its darkest years, with its tracks impassable, relief money to repair them blocked by bureaucratic infighting, debt piling higher daily and no source of income. When the authority no longer had the money to pay even a skeleton staff. Rockefeller became its acting executive director conducting business from her kitchen table.
Somehow, this frail (in body, not in spirit), aged lady and her younger colleagues pulled it off. The railroad isn't out of difficulty yet – indeed at this week's meeting, more bad news surfaced about bureaucratic problems in Sacramento. But present troubles seem minor compared to the horrendous difficulties that have been overcome.
Ruth Rockefeller is stepping down now, after a decade of extraordinary voluntary service to our community and those of our neighbors. She is a Mendocino County resident, originally appointed to represent that county on the rail authority. But as Rockefeller noted on Wednesday, the railroad doesn't stop at the county line. Rail authority members service the entire North Coast, and none has done so with greater distinction than she.
On December 7, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors appointed two new commissioners to the NCRA, Bob Simonson from Willits and Max P. Schlienger from Ukiah. MCRS Board members met with Bob Simonson and believe that he is an excellent choice as NCRA commissioner. For about forty years, Bob worked as an engineer on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, operating trains up and down the line. He knows the line probably better than any other NCRA commissioner - past or present. Not only does he bring along a much needed hands-on railroad knowledge, he also has extensive experience as a longtime union representative. Max Schlienger has experience in engineering and is the founder of Retech, a well-known Ukiah company that produces high-performance metals. He sold Retech in 1995, and started 'Flight Rail', working on a new design for light rail, which he believes people will love to ride, in contrast to ordinary streetcars. We congratulate Mr. Simonson and Mr.Schlienger and wish them well!
The Best NWP News Yet?
Will $65 Million keep the NWP on its tracks? Governor Gray Davis' announcement on April 5 - a week earlier than expected - gave renewed hope to NWP supporters in the North Coast counties from Humboldt south to Marin. Included in the governor's $5.2 billion transportation plan were not only $65 million for the NWP but also $37 million for commuter rail service in Sonoma and Marin counties. In addition, Davis promised to release the $28 million of proposition 116 funds (116 had been approved by voters in 1990) to the two counties if the legislature would approve the $37 million.
We are grateful not only to the governor, but also to our North Coast representatives. State Senator Wes Chesbro and Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, who both worked very hard to make it happen. These funds should assure the NWP's survival. But here is a serious warning to all our railroad friends:
Don't take this money for granted until it has been approved by the legislators! Our work begins now and we need all of you to help again. Please let your legislators know that you want them to vote FOR the $65 and $37 million! Send them a note, call them, send faxes and e-mails! And it doesn't matter where you live in California, all the legislators will get a chance to vote on this bill and they need to hear from you. And one more suggestion, let the governor know how much you appreciate his support.
Governor Davis, appropriately, named his bill a "traffic congestion relief plan", and the bulk of the money is indeed earmarked for public transportation projects mainly in the two metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles/San Diego. No wonder that he felt something had to be done, because both areas are among the top ten most congested areas in the nation.
Here are some of the highlights how the funds will be used:
$275 million to help for a $4 billion extension of BART service to San Jose from Fremont.
$127 million for five trains for Caltrain, and passing tracks between San Francisco and San Jose.
$150 million for 385 new buses for Los Angeles County.
$236 million for a $704 million light rail line from Union Station in Los Angeles to Monterey Park:
The governor is also asking the legislature to allocate $5 million for an environmental study for a high-speed rail system that would link Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
This is the first time that a California Governor has unveiled such a wide-reaching public transportation package and now it is extremely important that we give him our support to get it passed.
The meeting hall in Eureka was packed with people when the NCRA board conducted their April 12th meeting. The majority of the audience was very supportive of the railroad and several people expressed this during the public comments period. In contrast to the NCRA meeting in Willits in March, the overall mood was more optimistic, largely due to the governor's promise of financial help for the NWP.
At the Willits meeting, John Darling, the president of Railways Inc. - the freight operator for the NWP - had suggested a plan of action that could open the south end of the line as soon as possible. It was a combination of alternatives FEMA had proposed. The main point was to use FEMA's $8.3 million, which had been earmarked for the Eel River canyon, to complete the work at the south end. In addition. Darling suggested to open up the line on the north end - approximately from South Fork north - for some local freight operations. He insisted that he had no plans to abandon the canyon, but for the time being would only make it passable for slow work-connected equipment. The NCRA board was not ready to vote on his proposal, having had no chance to discuss it with
Humboldt officials, and postponed the decision until the April meeting. The employees of Railways Inc. - who had loyally stuck to the company even when they hadn't been paid for weeks - were very disappointed. Accepting Darling's plan would have made it possible to open the south end fairly soon.
In protest, they walked out of the Willits Council chamber and off their jobs. This forced Railways to cancel the planned
inspection by the Federal Railroad Administration, planned for March 27.
In Eureka, the NCRA was under strong pressure from the local NWP supporters and officials to use the $8.3 million for what it was earmarked for, repairing the Eel River canyon. The vote came in 4 to 3, keeping the funds in store for the canyon. There was another reason to vote this way; the NCRA would lose 10% of the money if it were to be used on the south end - and $830,000 is a substantial amount! Also, negotiations are going on to establish a fiber-optic line along the right-of-way through the canyon, which would bring a fairly large chunk of money to the NCRA. Had the NCRA adopted Railways' plan to put repairs in the canyon on hold, this option might have been lost.
But even if FEMA's $8.3 million were immediately available,
it is by far not enough to complete track repairs through the canyon, in fact, estimates range from $4.1 million for environmental damages alone to up to $60 million for stabilizing the line. Well, we all know that this is not an easy railroad to maintain. And when regular maintenance has been neglected for so many decades, it will be costly to remedy the problems. However, there is hope. Here is an interesting quote from George L. Morrison, who retired as vice-president and general manager of the NWP in 1963: "Problem spots like this (the Scotia Bluffs) have made the NWP's maintenance costs the heaviest of any railroad in the United States, but in spite of this the railroad has operated in the black for the last ten years." This indicates that with proper maintenance, the NWP can operate successfully!
In April our headline read "The Best NWP News Yet?" Today we can upstage this announcement because on July 6th, Governor Gray Davis signed his Traffic Congestion Relief Plan, which included $60 million for the rehabilitation the NWP. Now we are sure that the railroad will indeed receive the money. For three months we worried whether die funding would survive the fierce budget struggles in Sacramento. But it did!
Our heartfelt thanks go to all our North Coast legislators. Governor Gray Davis, and to NCRA Chairman Robert Jehn and executive director Max Bridges. And of course many thanks to all our railroad friends who helped with letters, phone calls, e-mails and faxes. At this time we also want to say thanks again to all of you who helped in our petition drive - last summer and earlier this year. These many, many pages of signatures certainly did their part in securing support for the railroad.
Now the work for rehabilitation of the NWP can begin. In fact, it has already begun. North Coast Railroad Authority Chairman Robert Jehn told MCRS that meetings with state transportation officials have been scheduled to work out the details how the funds will be distributed. One of the most pressing tasks is to pay the freight operator's employees who have not received any paychecks in over 100 days.
$10 million, to be released within four months, are earmarked for the repayment of the NCRA's debts, which will be a great relief for the various creditors who have done work for the NWP in recent years. Funds immediately to be released are $600,000 for the completion of the line from Lombard to Willits. $250,000 will be available for administrative use right away, another $250,000 within six months and $500.000 within a year. We hope to see signs of progress soon. Now that the money is available, it will be possible to get this railroad back on track. We are equally thankful that the $37 million for commuter rail service for Sonoma and Marin have also survived the budget process.
by Johanna Burkhardt, MCRS Secretary
The Draft Final Report of this plan was released a few months ago and the public input period ended on June 30. Like many other rail advocates in the counties north of Sonoma and
Marin, I have followed the Sonoma and Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) meetings with great interest, regularly reading the minutes and therefore sent in my comments.
Being part of the group that had originally spearheaded the regeneration of the NWP by getting the legislation in place that served as the basis, I had always been very interested in reestablishing passenger service on the line. Sonoma and Marin counties' push for commuter rail is the first step toward passenger service on the entire line and MCRS is very supportive of this plan.
The two issues I discussed in my comments were noise pollution and ridership figures. I wonder if it is really necessary to spend approximately $34 million on sound walls for certain sections? ($500 per linear foot is the minimum cost). I have lived close to railroad tracks several times in my life and the sounds of the trains have never bothered me, while the noise
from a freeway about a mile away was a constant annoyance. A study done in Germany revealed that 42% of all households surveyed complained about the noise from roads, 17% complaint about airplane noise and only 6% were disturbed by railroad sounds. I also question the estimated ridership figures for the commute rail. Since I happen to be quite familiar with a small railroad in Germany where passenger service also had been abandoned during the sixties and was reeastablished in 1996, I obtained detailed information about this railroad and compared it to the planned commute rail for Sonoma and Marin. The population of the communities that will be served by
commuter rail in Sonoma and Marin counties (From Cloverdale south, along the NWP corridor) is 380,146 and the estimated ridership for start up is 2,900 and 4,900 after ten years.
In comparison, the total population of the communities in Germany that supply the ridership for the line is 71,700. The ridership started with 3,700 passengers and has increased to 5,000 within three years. However, there is one major difference between the two lines. The German railroad offers excellent and fast connections into Stuttgart, a major city in Southwestern Germany. But, according to the SMART draft plan, rail connection to the Larkspur Ferry is not considered now, because it is not cost- effective. This means there is no attractive connection to San Francisco. In other words, the
market to San Francisco via bus to the ferry, or via bus to the city, is rather small and that is probably the reason why the ridership estimates are so low.
However, there is an excellent solution - look to the east! The $60 million for rehabilitation of the NWP tracks are allocated for the entire line, from Eureka to Lombard. From there, Suisun is only 13 miles away. Once the NWP tracks have been upgraded, Amtrak should consider running connecting trains from Suisun to the NWP main line and thus open up the Capitol corridor and the connection to the Amtrak trains to
the North Coast counties. This would eliminate the Amtrak buses from Martinez to Santa Rosa and give residents from Cloverdale to San Rafael a smooth train connection. It would also reduce the Amtrak bus route from Arcata to Martinez to an Arcata-Cloverdale bus. Since the Amtrak buses connecting our counties with Martinez are notorious late because of the congested highways, Mendocino and Humboldt counties would also benefit.
In addition, there is the potential for additional ridership from the town of Sonoma (the NWP tracks are only three miles away), the surrounding areas, and the Napa Valley. Rail advocates in this area have pushed for regular service on the wine-train tracks for several years. So far, the commuter rail plan has been strictly a Sonoma/Marin undertaking. But now, as Governor Davis' new transportation plan is providing the funding to upgrade the entire NWP tracks, one should seriously consider to widen the scope of this planned rail line. Serving more communities will increase the ridership, increase the fairbox ratio and, hopefully, it's efficiency.
The proposed Ukiah transit center will not move to the Ukiah train station property. The Mendocino Transit Authority has withdrawn its offer to buy the site. For several years, MTA had pursued plans to develop it as the future transit center for the town, which would accommodate the MTA buses, the Amtrak, Greyhound and Airporter buses and future passenger rail service.
Negotiations between the NCRA and MTA had been going on for a long time and not too long ago the project seemed to sail through. But because federal money will be used for the construction, very strict rules apply concerning the determination of existing leases. Under federal law, MTA is responsible to provide adequate facilities for the present occupants who are leasing the property. This would add approximately $ 1 million to MTA's expenses and therefore, the MTA Board voted against the project and is looking at different locations for the transit center.
According to the Willits News of July 7, the North Coast Railroad Authority and the California Western Railroad have been sued by Rail-Ways Inc. for $177,451. The NCRA's freight operator claims that the CWR owes that money for track repair done by Rail-Ways Inc. in the Willits yard during May of 1999.
Reading statements from both sides, the story appears to be rather complex. However, as stated in the Willits News, NCRA attorney Chris Neary said, "I don't think there will be any litigation. I am sure that what the NCRA board is willing to do will satisfy both the Rail-Ways and the California Western." Neary also said that the NCRA board most likely will consider the lawsuit at its next board meeting.
A report by E. M. Frimbo II
If you think of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad as two separate lines, or at least two separate parts, with two dramatically different sets of problems, it is easier to understand how things are working (or not working) on this troubled railroad.
The southern half of the line, from the San Francisco Bay to Willits, 140 miles, is built on a solid foundation, good roadbed, mild weather, easy to maintain. The northern half of the line, Willits to Eureka, 140 more miles, goes through the wild, steep, and ever-shifting Eel River Canyon, a maintenance nightmare of heavy winter rains, mud slides, wash-outs, and difficult access.
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad is publicly owned, with a bureaucracy and chain of command that at times slows funding and thwarts efforts to get trains running again. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority (NWPRA), comprised of the Golden Gate Bridge District, and the Counties of Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt, owns the southern part, and the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), which is in charge of maintaining and operating the railroad, owns the northern part of the line. The NCRA contracts all maintenance and day-to-day operations to a private company called Railways, Inc., which in turn subcontracts work to construction companies, engineers, and other private businesses. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) shut down the entire line, all 284.5 miles, two years ago due to dangerous track conditions and environmental problems. Because of funding troubles, bickering among the agencies, and lack of whatever it takes to get a railroad running, well, the railroad isn't running.
For two years, Railways Inc. and its subcontractors were doing work on both the northern and southern halves of the railroad. The results? In the southern half of the railroad, 43 miles of track (from the San Francisco Bay to Penngrove in Sonoma County) are now in good enough condition to use. In the northern half, Willits to Eureka, most of the work has been for naught, as slides continue to cover the tracks, roadbed continues to slip and tunnels collapse. Money not well spent.
That brings us to October 2000, and the latest announcement of "good news, the southern half of the line. A subcontractor, Herzog Construction, backed out of a contract to do the work rebuilding the rails, citing State of California earthquake requirements that Herzog claimed they did not know about, and did not budget into their bid. Railways Inc., in a decision that surprised everyone at the meeting, has decided to quit trying to hire a construction company, and to do the work itself. John Darling, president of Railways Inc, told the NCRA Board of Directors that he is spending $30,000 to $40,000 a month on overhead, and stated, "At the rate it is costing us to do nothing, we should just open the railroad."
With the NCRA's approval, Mr. Darling said that Railways Inc. itself would start repairing the line. Mr. Darling thinks he can have the rails operational to milepost 63 (near Windsor, north of Santa Rosa) in 60 days. NCRA Board Chair Robert Jehn wanted it very clear that Railways Inc., and not the NCRA, would be funding this work. "I don't want your employees back here asking why they aren't getting paid," demanded Mr. Jehn. Mr. Darling agreed, the Board unanimously approved, and lo and behold, after 43 miles in two years, Mr. Darling says we'll get 20 more miles and working trains in two months!
The northern half of the NWP Railroad is a whole 'nother story. Much of the funding for work on the Eel River Canyon was supposedly coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In an August meeting with the NCRA, FEMA and Office of Emergency Services (OES) officials agreed to fund repairs to the tracks.
But somehow, the agreement was never put in writing, and FEMA is saying that things have changed, the scope of the repairs is different than first described, and that further environmental study must be done by the NCRA. Part of the FEMA turn-around apparently had to do with repairs to a tunnel that were added to the proposal after the August meeting.
Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that the Federal agencies are being very uncooperative and downright hostile to the NWP. NCRA attorney Chris Neary said he was "disheartened," Chairman Robert Jehn said he was "really baffled," NWP Property Manager Cyndee Logan said FEMA was "unprofessional," and Director Jake Mackenzie stated quite bluntly, "We're being jerked around, and hardball politics are being played." The NCRA Board decided to fight the FEMA decision. NCRA attorney Chris Neary stated, "It's important to hold our guns on this issue." Unfortunately for the NCRA, FEMA has the ammunition. This latest setback delays the Eel River track stabilization project to 2003.
Another issue at the meeting was a unanimous vote to sell five passenger railroad cars sitting in the Willits yard. Director Alan Hemphill said the cars were purchased when passenger service operated briefly three summers ago. The cars have been sitting ever since, rapidly deteriorating from weather, vandalism, and disuse. The NCRA still owes $124,000 on the cars. The sale does not include the once-elegant old Southern Pacific Daylight cars, which are also sadly deteriorating in Willits. The NCRA Board again took up the perpetual issue of unpaid bills. The railroad has many creditors, businesses small and large that sold supplies to the railroad and did construction and engineering work for the railroad. Some creditors have been waiting five and six years to be paid. Money to pay the creditors is supposed to come from a $10 million Debt Relief Fund administered by the California Transportation Commission, a state agency that so far has not released the funds.
Apparently some creditors had been asked by the NCRA to accept less than the full amount of their billings, which resulted in angry letters to the newspapers and angry speakers at NCRA meetings. At the October meeting, the NCRA Board made it clear that creditors will get 100% of their money. Chairman Robert Jehn stated, "We will repay all the creditors in full. Someday. We have consistently said that." The Board, however, balked at being charged as much as 1.5% per month interest on unpaid invoices, and agreed to pay all creditors 7% interest when the money becomes available.
The Board also discussed plans to hire a Project Manager; the governor's veto of the Short Line Railway bill; serious vandalism problems on a swinging/lift bridge requiring enhanced security ("we put film in the camera"); problems with an uncooperative trailer park in Calpella that has kind-of taken over railroad right of way, parking trailers too close to the tracks and planting flowers in the roadbed; a report from Eureka's Citizens for Port Development and their enthusiastic support for a working railroad that will serve their future deep-sea-vessel facility; and the plans for commuter rail service in Sonoma County by 2005-2006 ("A little optimistic maybe," according to NCRA Chairman Robert Jehn).
Two Years later – will trains finally run again?
Frimbo’s story (Good News, Bad News) gives an excellent overview of the recent developments on the NWP and the many obstacles that plague this railroad. In the meantime, the November NCRA meeting took place in Fortuna and overall, the situation hasn’t changed a lot.
The problem with FEMA persists, however the State Office of Emergency Services (OES) has become more cooperative. After the meeting’s closed session, NCRA attorney Chris Neary announced that the NCRA will send a letter to FEMA by November 16 concerning the canyon re-opening project. The Board has decided pursuing legal litigation with FEMA on this matter. A presentation by a new railroad support group from Humboldt County was on the agenda of the November meeting. Kaye Strickland, the coalition’s spoke person, voiced the group’s concern about the delay in opening the canyon. Besides sharing their concerns with legislators, they also are working on some other plans of actions. One of their goals is to open up the tracks between Scotia and Eureka and around Humboldt Bay for freight and excursion operations. In his report, John Darling, president of NWP Railway Co. LLC (NWPY), stated that to open the “Humboldt Short Rail” two environmental studies have to be done on the Samoa Branch and at Tunnel 40. Talking about the southern part of the line, Mr.Darling was hopeful to open the line up to Windsor by the end of the year and to Willits by April.
Good news was announced by the NCRA on November 20. A day after the Fortuna meeting, on November 15, the NCRA and the Northwestern Pacific Railway CO., LLC (NWPY), sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requesting partial relief from FRA’s emergency order # 21 which closed down freight operation in November of 1998. They are asking for an inspection of the track and signals from valuation milepost 63.4 near Lombard to milepost 43.0 near Petaluma. The FRA has responded and indicated that the earliest date for an inspection would be December 12. If everything goes well and the FRA is lifting the embargo, freight trains could be running from Petaluma south by the end of the year. There are several large shippers in this area – among them feed stores - who will be happy to hear the good news. Already, there is talk about a celebration event.
Let’s hope that we will not be disappointed again and things will finally work out this time! When the line will open again – even if it is only on the southern end – we are hopeful that this will be the start for a new beginning, and in due time the rest of the line will follow.
New NWP Support Group In
A group of enthusiastic rail supporters in Humboldt County recently founded the “North Western Pacific Support Coalition”. Kaye Strickland, who has worked diligently for years to help the railroad, is one of the major players in this new movement. Kaye also chairs the “Citizens for Port Development” and has been a longtime active member of the League of Women Voters.
The coalition’s goals are to:
* Link civic organizations together to create a shared vision and priority for rail service to Humboldt County;
* monitor and keep informed re the progress and delays for returning rail freight and passenger service to Humboldt;
* provide a communication liaison between these organizations, the public, public officials and entities responsible for returning full rail service from the SF Bay area to Humboldt county;
* identify and seek active support for return of this rail service to Humboldt County;
* emphasize the benefits to this area of return of full rail service; the impacts of not returning this rail service; and inform the public about officials and entities that obstruct or delay the return of this rail service to Humboldt County.
Current coalition members are: Citizens for Port Development, Friends of Humboldt County, Tax Payers League, Northern Counties Logging Interpretive Society, Business Leaders Round Table, Humboldt Convention and Visitors Bureau. and representatives of several of the local environmental organizations. Fax: 707.444.9357
MCRS is very pleased about this new group and will discuss joining the coalition at the next board meeting. The people in Humboldt County always have been very supportive of the railroad. During the petition drive two years ago they did an excellent job getting signatures; and the same people who were active at that time are now the “movers and shakers” of the coalition.
In September, Wilbur Smith Associates released the final draft of the Sonoma and Marin Rail Implementation plan, which they had prepared for the Sonoma and Marin Area Rail Transit commission (SMART). IN the fall of 1998, the counties of Sonoma and Marin had formed SMART to develop an implementation plan for a start-up level of commuter rail service for the two counties. The commission was made up of representatives of the Supervisors and City Council Members from each county. The lead agency for the management and administration of the project was the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) who was responsible for hiring the railroad operations and engineering experts to develop the implementation plan. The route would run 68 miles from Cloverdale to San Rafael with 11 stations along the route. The service would begin with 45-minute peak period headways, which would shorten to 30 minutes after six years of operation. The service would employ either traditional diesel locomotives hauling coaches, self-propelled diesel cars known as Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs), or rebuilt self-propelled Rail Diesel Cars (RDC) or “Bud cars”.
A draft plan was presented to the SMART Commission in May 2000. Subsequently, comments were received from public agencies, interest groups, and individuals. Based on these comments, the project consultants made revisions to the draft plan Rationales for commuter rail are the existing congestion on Highway 101. Commuter rail could have a short-term implementation as the tracks are in place already. Manufacturing of rolling stock would take conservatively about three years, and mitigation for significant environmental impacts could be completed within a few years. Accordingly, commuter rail service could be in place within five years.
SMART met on November 15 in Novato. It was announced that an application for the $37 million for the project that had been included in the Governor’s Traffic Congestion Relief plan had been sent to the California Transportation Commission (CTC) on October 11th. This matter will be on the agenda of the CTC on December 5th or 6th. SMART also issued a Request for Proposals from individuals or firms for the position of a project manager. It was due on November 10th. Another matter on the agenda was a presentation from the Marin Bicycle Coalition. This group wants to make sure that bicycle and trail use can be included in future rail corridor right-of-way. The next SMART meeting will be in Petaluma on December 13th.
By William Ray
Last July, in the midst of a 50% increase in oil prices, the Governor’s Traffic Congestion Relief Plan included $60 million to fund the NCRA’s efforts to resume and maintain rail service over the 300-mile line between Marin County and Eureka.
And now, on February 1st, the Federal Railroad Administration began to lift its 1998 embargo against the line, because tracks and safety features have been improved.
At their February 21 meeting, the California Transportation Commission fronted $250,000 for immediate administrative costs of the line.
Recently, the NCRA has received over $8 million to pay off outstanding debt it has incurred trying to run the railroad by itself.
All this indicates an endorsement for the future of the railroad on the North Coast, and the recognition that the railroad is a utility that government must support on behalf of the businesses that need it, and of the citizens that overwhelmingly want it and enjoy it.
The freight operator, NWPY, paid the cost to resume rail traffic. After receiving the authorization to reopen rail service, John Darling, CEO of NWPY, said, "All the employees of the NWPY are looking forward to serving our customers who have been very patient awaiting the reactivation of service. They deserve, and will receive, the best service we can give them.
Recently appointed Chairman of the NCRA, David Ripple, said, "This day has been a long time coming. We can now start providing freight service to the shippers along this section of the line. This is an important first step toward establishing service all along the North Coast. There has been significant co-operation from all participants to complete this important initial phase. We look forward to providing service to milepost 63 in the near future." Milepost 63 is at Windsor. The day may come that commuters from here and as farther north will embark on the train for work, instead of clogging the roadways that cannot expand any farther.
February 16, 2001, saw the symbolic resumption of the first forty-one miles of the line, when a ribbon cutting ceremony took place at the historic depot in Petaluma. There was a time when that depot was teeming with passengers going to all the cities in the state and the country.
State Senator Wesley Chesbro hailed the advent of freight service as the first step toward complete and full service of the line. At the ceremony in Petaluma he said, "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when" the line will open to Humboldt County, assuring those at the extreme north end of the line that they will have rail service in the future.
Immediate past Chairman of the NCRA, Bob Jehn, made a proud and perhaps prophetic statement: “This is a great day for the people of the North Coast. The contribution of this railroad to the economy and quality of life of the North Coast is incalculable." His work played a critical role in making this dream a fact. At present, the dreams outnumber the facts, however, as pointed out in the Press Democrat editorial, February 17: "The most expensive and controversial repair, through the rugged Eel River Canyon, will cost $40 million and take years to complete." But the Press Democrat's editorial also acknowledges the need for rail:" Congestion problems on Highway 101 have heightened the need for efficient commuter service - as well as freight transportation- serving the region."
Rail Advocates refute disparaging AP Article
A few days after the FRA had passed the inspection of the first 40.8 miles of tracks, and the railroad finally seems to be on the road to recovery, a biased, ill-informed AP story -was printed in many Northern California newspapers. But -whoever instigated this piece of defamation had not counted on the furious response from rail advocates. We applaud David Anderson from the Times-Standard in Eureka who did a remarkable job reporting on the AP article. He refuted the untrue and disparaging statements and pointed out the importance of keeping this railroad alive. The following letters, in response to the AP story, also raise numerous significant arguments in support of the NWP:
Letter to the Ukiah Daily Journal by Dave Morrow:
I would like to commend the UDJ for your recent front-page articles on transportation issues. However, the Sunday (2/4/01) front-page article bears some response, as it was a shallow piece, perhaps written by a cub reporter. The article reported that the State has authorized spending about $60 million to repair the railroad between Marin and Humboldt counties, and that it will probably be plagued by slides due to unstable geology. This is true, but only half the story. Along the same corridor as the rail runs State Highway 101. Highway 101 is also plagued by the same ills of crippling costs and chronic maintenance problems suffered by the railroad (this fact was not mentioned in the article). State Highway 101 has been a black hole for money, with widenings, such as the Cloverdale bypass, costing $10 million a mile or over $40 million. And Caltrans officials have admitted that they built to an excessive width, such that the west side road cuts collapse, resulting in costly repairs occurring almost every winter. In my view, the Cloverdale by-pass is really appropriate for an urban freeway - far in excess of future highway needs for the next 50 years. The five lane stretches of Highway 101 north of Willits are capable of handling over 50,000 vehicles per day, but projected traffic in year 2025 will be only about 13,000. Why are these roads so over-built? And what is the additional cost, over time, of maintaining such an enormous roadbed that carries very little traffic? Many stretches of Highway 101 between Laytonville and Scotia are so wide that they routinely slide – costing millions of dollars to repair. Your reporter disparaged the railroad as being expensive to maintain - but what of Highway 101? Does it exist in a vacuum? Why not examine, and compare with rail, the further very costly widenings or bypasses planned for Highway 101 in the next 20 years? Some options for the Willits bypass, a route of about 6 miles, are estimated at $160 million. A five-mile bypass desired by Caltrans around Richardson Grove is estimated at $250 million. Why? Because trucks impede other vehicle speeds and impact areas they pass through - on Highway 101 up to 1000 semi-trucks per day go through Willits and almost 1,700 through Eureka. These trucks almost always bum diesel, which is a significant source of air toxics and carcinogens.
Think of the health benefits for town residents if these trucks did not drive stop-and-go through their towns! A functioning rail line could eliminate so much heavy truck traffic and relieve congested intersections - a topic completely ignored in your report.
If the primary function of the railroad is to haul freight, what good will repairing the rail line do? First, freight trains use only 25% of the fuel required by a semi-truck. Second, diverting heavy loads to rail saves the highways significant amounts of damage. A semi-truck causes up to 10,000 times more damage to a highway than a passenger car.
Third, reducing truck traffic will allow greater passenger vehicle freedom, hence eliminating need for costly new widening projects on Highway 101. And remember, while new highway projects cost a lot to build, they cost many times more to maintain over the long haul than the optimum road route that was initially used. Almost any bypass option is fraught with complex (read expensive) geologic or engineering problems. Lastly, we should remember history (which the front page article ignored). A perfectly good passenger rail system existed between Eureka and Marin until 1957. That was the year that Eisenhower shifted transportation funding away from rail to build the National Defense Interstate Highway System - an emulation of the Autobahns he had seen in Germany after WW II. Since 1957, the nation's rail lines, lacking the massive federal subsidies afforded the interstate highways, have slowly fallen into disrepair, and may now be unusable. We are at the current
sorry state of affairs because for years we have poured hundreds of millions into Highway 101 and neglected the rail line. Rail on the North Coast, if subsidized on a level equal to the highways, could reduce consumption of fossil fuels, remove significant levels of heavy truck traffic that impedes auto travel, and provide a convenient alternative to driving between Eureka and San Francisco. I travel this corridor frequently for business, and would certainly use a passenger train system if it were available. America, for all we brag about being the greatest nation on earth, has a very poor rail system compared to almost any other First World nation. We citizens of the North Coast may not be able to fix the entire nation, but we should do what we can to bring Northern California up to the standards taken for granted in even the poorest European nation; decent passenger rail.
Perhaps in a future issue the UDJ could write a piece
comparing the projected costs for construction and maintenance of Highway 101 and the rail line. This would give citizens a more complete vision of the options for spending our hard-earned tax dollars. All the Caltrans cost projections for Highway 101 are included in public documents available in the Regional Transportation Plans for the various counties. I think that you will find it will cost many times more to complete the widenings of Highway 101 between Marin and Eureka than the $642 million projected to bring the rail line up to freight and
passenger standards. And because the rail line right-of-way is much narrower than Highway 101, it will probably be far cheaper to maintain over coming years.
Letter from a Railroad Advocate from Fairfield
The Associated Press article entitled, "Davis Keeps Pouring Money Into Troubled Railroad" is a very unfair written article and not up to "AP's" high standards. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad has been in public hands now for the last few years, and rightly so, to protect a form of heavy haul freight transportation serving almost a quarter of the landmass of the entire state of California. When Southern Pacific unloaded the line they did so because their main lines were in trouble capital wise and they excised the branch lines first in order to try and
save the Southern Pacific itself. Unfortunately, the NWP was one of the first lines they dumped. SP's efforts were in vain and there is no Southern Pacific today. The Union Pacific, through its California connection at Suisun, serves the NWP whose track ownership begins at Lombard in American Canyon, CA. The NWP has been serving the North Coast of California since the line was completed in 1914. This carrier, over the years, provided exceptional freight and passenger service to an isolated region of Northern California. To say this railroad only benefits the special interests is ridiculous. It benefits all sectors of
society. Even with the "blue goo" soil conditions the railroad
successfully fielded good passenger train service in the region for with onward ferryboat connections to San Francisco. One could leave Eureka at night and be standing on the streets of San Francisco the next morning. As for the comments of Kevin Bundy, Policy Director of the Garberville based Environmental Protection Information Center, and his statement "it's a railroad that benefits the same handful of special interests that generally benefit from public largess on the North Coast" - this shows
his complete naivety of what a railroad does for a living and the industries and people it serves. As for the statement of Patricia Clary of CATS, Californians for Alternatives to Toxins, stating, "the railroad has been a black hole. This $60 millions the government is going to throw at it, why don't they just throw it out the window" - this statement is also misleading and inaccurate. $60 million dollars will go a long ways in restoring this railroad. A recent estimate by a leading railroad construction firm noted that railroad could be opened for $1 million between Eureka and Willits for limited work train service only. White it will take many more millions to set the track straight, it will take nowhere the $642 million noted in a federal study. This figure is astounding when in the 1964 flood only $14 million was required to rebuild almost the entire north end of the line between Willits and Eureka.
Let's get something straight; both the railroad and the highway must cross unstable terrain on the North Coast. The difference is that the public highway receives all the public money it needs to keep it open and fight Mother Nature. For anyone who regularly drives Highway 101 between Willits and Eureka the unstable area of the highway come to mind such as Carl's Slide and Confusion Hill. Right now, Caltrans is spending
$1.4 million just to keep the highway open at Confusion Hill. Shouldn't a public railroad be entitled to any less public funding so that it can operate and restore heavy freight service to an area that badly needs it? Trucking restriction on the North Coast highways place this region at an economic disadvantage with other regions of California. A working railroad would end this competitive disadvantage.
As for Governor Davis accepting $60,000from shippers for his campaign fund - compare that miniscule figure to the $1.3 million he accepted last year from Utility Companies such as PG&E. Shippers have the right to lobby in their own interests especially when they are in a region that needs a working transportation system that it does not have now. Governor Davis should be applauded for helping the North Coast and trying to keep the lights on in California. His predecessor. Republican Governor Pete Wilson, did not care if the North Coast and its railroad dropped dead. He also deregulated electricity, which resulted in the mess we are in today.
The environmentalists always seem to want things their own way. They talk of needing mass transit to get people out of automobiles but shun freight railroads that can alleviate traffic congestion. They talk of keeping rivers pristine while not realizing that the lack of culvert maintenance on the rail bed along the Eel River will eventually allow the river to fill with mud and debris. They can't have it both ways and this AP hit piece on the railroad does not cover it. I would remind them that the only endangered species in the Eel River Canyon is the Railroad. A badly needed railroad at that. The sooner it opens the better.
Northwestern Pacific Railroad
During the last few months, the Humboldt based coalition has met regularly. They are still refining their mission and goals statements, getting input from other support groups. At the last MCRS meeting, the board of directors decided to join the coalition and work together with them for the good of the railroad and the people in the North Coast counties. The following, preliminary mission statement is an example of the language the group is striving for: "To support and assist the North Coast Railroad Authority in providing an economical, reliable, and environmentally sound rail service meeting the freight and passenger needs of the North Coast region." Anybody interested in more details, please contact 707.442.6166 (fax 707.442.1507) or nwpsc@arcatanet.
OPEN LETTER TO ENVIRONMENTALISTS
By Janice Gendreau, Willits
Recently I listened to Ecology Hour on Mendocino's public broadcasting station (KZYX & Z) and was stunned to hear an interview with Sierra Club member John Stephens who opposes NWP's reopening north of Willits. What stunned me was Mr. Stephens single-minded dismissal of every argument or fact put forward by callers who support the railroad's rehabilitation. He even went so far as to say that we (society) will never get people out of their cars because they love the freedom it gives them. This coming from an environmentalist? I know traffic engineers that are more sympathetic to rail transport.
It seems to me that the problem is mindset. Why can't we hold two thoughts in our head at the same time? We can support the health of the Eel and support the railroad. It is not a perfect union as so much else in our modern, mechanized world. But what's the alternative? Supporting the automobile/truck? Denying its catastrophic effects on the environment? At the risk of preaching to the choir, I would like to provide a brief summary of the auto's impacts: polluter of air (#1), water and soil; killer of approximately 50,000 people nationwide; devourer of land through such infrastructure as roads, parking lots, garages, driveways, fuel stations, disposal sites, oil refineries,
suburban development etc.; gobbler of non-renewable fuels
and other materials that are components of the auto; agent of environmental disasters such as oil spills; and, finally, saboteur of public transport systems (GM et al.).
I believe that those who would protect our watersheds and forests and who would also oppose the railroad north of Willits have not thought through the full implications of their position. Environmentalists should be on the same page. We can oppose the transport of old growth timber whether by truck or rail. But rail is needed as a more efficient, cleaner means of moving people and goods. To oppose rail north of Willits is to promote auto and truck usage and all the environmental destruction that
goes with it.
SLOW BUT STEADY PROGRESS
On May 2nd, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) in Sacramento conceptually approved $36 million applied for by executive director Max Bridges for the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). These funds are part of the $60 million that had been included in Governor Davis' "Traffic Congestion Relief Plan" of July 2000. Director Bridges returned from the Sacramento meeting reasonably satisfied with the outcome. However, of the $1.8 million he had asked for as immediate allocation the NCRA received only $500,000. The remaining $35,500,000 will be approved by the CTC after the NCRA has completed the paperwork required by the CTC and Caltrans. The NCRA has to prepare RPF's and RFQ's, incorporate this into their strategic plan and business plan, and meet any other legal and environmental requirements.
Although this sounds very complicated and tiresome, the good news is that the CTC's approval of the recent application means that the funding of $36 million has been safely earmarked for the NCRA. Even if the NCRA has not received the actual funding by July 2002 when the deadline for this particular funding expires, it cannot be used for any other project in different areas of the state; it does belong to the NCRA. But let's hope that for once the bureaucratic wheels will turns a little faster and the allocations are approved long before that date anyway. The $36 million will pay for the following projects: $5 million to upgrade the entire line to class II or III, and $ 31 million for long-term stabilization of the entire line. In addition, $1 million to open the line between Willits and Arcata and $600,000 to reopen up to Willits from the South have been received by the NCRA previously. Another $100,000 for the environmental work pursuant to the Consent Decree for an initial assessment of the effort needed was approved at a prior CTC meeting. The allocation of $500,000 will be used for an "assessment of the entire line", a sort of "preliminary needs report" that will establish what kind of work has to be done. A consulting firm will be hired to take over this job. One can expect the contract to be awarded by August.
Another piece of news concerning the NCRA is that the position of the "Project manager" has been filled by Doug Christie. Christie had been the chief engineer and president for John Darling's "NWPY" company since last fall. (The NWPY holds the contract with the NCRA to run the freight operation on the NWP.) Before joining Darling's company, Christie had been the CEO of the Iowa Interstate Railroad.
A more disturbing piece of information is the fact that John Darling recently filed bankruptcy under chapter 11, which give the company - Railways Inc. - protection from creditors while reorganizing. In 1998, Railways Inc. had received the contract to run the freight operation on the NWP. Since that time. Darling had formed a new company - Northwestern Pacific Railway Co., LLC (NWPY) - who was awarded the extended contract with the NCRA. Presently, Railways Inc. is not a contractor with the NCRA. Last year, the NCRA had paid Railways $5.9 million for the work the company had done for the railroad. According to Darling, Railways' employees have all been paid. In spite of Railways filing for bankruptcy, NWPY is continuing the freight operation on the south end from Petaluma to the main line. One train per day is carrying grain, feed, lumber and railroad equipment. As soon as three signal crossing lights have been repaired, the line will open to Windsor where Standard Structures and Mead and Clarke Lumber Company are anxiously waiting for the resumed rail operations. Bidding for the rehabilitation job from Windsor to Willits is expected to open soon. $600,000 is available for this work.
CHANGES ON THE BOARD: Chairman David Ripple who used to hold a Humboldt County seat on the NCRA has taken over the seat vacated by Bob Jehn. Consequently, a new NCRA commissioner has to be nominated for Humboldt County. So far, no decision has been made.
Abandon the NWP north of Willits?
By Johanna Burkhardt
The friends of the NWP will be upset about this headline, but the environmental groups who argue against the reopening of the railroad north of Willits (or even Healdsburg) are dead serious about this issue. Last spring, EPIC (Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville) wrote a 16-page letter to FEMA in response to FEMA's Draft Environmental Assessment pertaining to the railroad rehabilitation work north of Willits. EPIC urged FEMA not to reopen the line through the Eel River canyon and demanded a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for any work done on the line.
Of course, we are absolutely opposed to shutting down the line between Willits and Eureka. But why an EIS for a repair job on an existing railroad? Caltrans didn't need an EIS for huge repair jobs like the big slide near Leggett or the realignment of 101 south of Willits! EPIC explains in great detail why the railroad should not be reopened. Here are examples of their arguments:
"The railroad was illogically placed in one of the most geologically unstable areas in the world, and its construction was the beginning of the destruction of this river. " Or: "The Eel River was a majestic place that ran wild and free up the North Coast of California not so long ago. Hosting deep, cold pools and thousands of salmon, green sturgeon and other aquatic species, the Eel River provided an abundant food source to many mammals and bird species. Stories of old-timers that describe the area are hard to imagine today, with the Eel now flowing 15 times muddier than the Mississippi and with populations of native species reaching numbers of critical concern. This railroad has completely changed the dynamic of the Eel River, filling its deep, cold pools with sediment and claiming the lives of thousands of salmon and sturgeon and those who depend on these resources. The illogical construction of this railroad through its canyon and inner gorge areas has led to serious problems that will only be addressed via its decommissioning and restoration of the area."
And Patty Cleary from CATS (Californians for Alternatives to Toxics) wrote to a local newspaper: "For one thing, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics is NOT in "support [of] the railroad north and south of- but not through - the Eel River Canyon " as you describe our position. In fact, the more we study and learn, the more clear it is that the day is long passed for all the railroad except perhaps the southernmost section. Once it enters the Franciscan complex north of Healdsburg - the most geologically unstable region in North America - it stops being a viable transport system. " And discrediting the supporters of the NWP, Cleary continues: "Public support, if it exists at all, is based on misinformation that passes for fact, but that will soon pass when truth meets the light of day, as it must when the required informative environmental review is done prior to any cleanup or repair work is started. It's time to think about options for using the railroad corridor ".
Other environmental groups have been influenced by EPIC and CATS, and even the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club (Sonoma, Solano, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties), that for many years has been a strong supporter of the NWP, is currently debating whether to continue its support.
I agree that past railroad managements have committed serious environmental violations pertaining to the Eel River that should never have been tolerated and certainly will not be tolerated in the future. But these actions were confined to only one section and one side of the river. To blame the general degradation of the Eel River on the railroad is unjustified and biased. The following "Eel River Facts" and excerpts from watershed studies explain what has really happened to this river.
The Eel River is a "Wild and Scenic River", designated as such in 1981. (Classification/Mileage: Wild -- 97.0 miles; Scenic -- 28.0 miles; Recreational -- 273.0) Its main stem and three forks cover almost 3,700 square miles, ranking as the state's third largest watershed. The total length measures 398 miles.
The most controversial part of the river - because of the railroad's presence in the river canyon - from Dos Rios to the confluence where the main stem and the South Fork of the River meet, amounts to 19% of the river's total mileage, or 76 miles.
Both the railroad and Highway 101 parallel the river for another 31 miles north from the confluence to Fernbridge. In addition Highway 101 parallels the South Fork of the river for about 55 miles from south of Leggett to the confluence.
Anybody who is concerned about the railroad polluting the river should be equally concerned about the runoff from Highway 101, which is paralleling the river for a total of 86 miles. For instance, unregulated "nonpoint-source pollution", run-off from roads and highways, amounts to about 80% of the pollution getting into our waterways. A recent alarming study on lead contamination (Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2000) revealed that lead weights placed on vehicle tires to balance them are shedding quantities of lead (lead dust as the weights deteriorate) that can exceed 50kg per km of road per year. Theoretically, this would compute to 23t of lead dust per year on the 270 miles of Highway 101 from San Rafael to Arcata. Of course, traffic on the north end is much lighter (app. about 2 million vehicles per year) than on the south end (about ten times as many). But isn't that reason enough to support rail transportation?
HUMAN IMPACTS THAT LED TO THE DEGRADATION OF THE RIVER:
OVERGRAZING: The first manmade damage to the river occurred during the late eighteen hundreds when white settlers introduced large herds of sheep and cattle to the area. "By the late 1860s, sheep dominated the rangelands of the Basin. During the late 1870s, -when the number of sheep reached its highest point, 40,000 to 60,000 sheep would spend at least some part of the year in the North Fork basin. " (From Environmental History and Cultural Ecology of the North Fork of the Eel River Basin, California. By Thomas S. Keter, Heritage Resource Program, U.S. Forest Service) "Grazing pressures peaked in the 1880s. Thousands of sheep and cattle were grazed on land that would later become National Forest". (From Watershed Analysis Report for the Upper Main Eel River Watershed May 1995, US Dept. of Agriculture - US FS; US dept. of the Interior - BLM).
By the turn of the century, people began to realize that the large herds of foraging animals were overgrazing the land, but grazing continued unregulated until the passing of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934. Besides causing erosion on the slopes, "livestock tends to congregate within the riparian zones more often than in the surrounding uplands ". (Armour et al. 1991:7 - T.S. Keter) In addition to the sheep and cattle, large populations of feral pigs – also dating back to the 1860s - caused damage to the river and stream banks by destroying and uprooting the riparian vegetation.
WATER DIVERSION: In 1908, Pacific Gas & Electric built the Cape Horn Dam and the Van Arsdale reservoir and began diverting water from the Eel River to fuel the Potter Valley hydroelectric plant. From the Cape Horn Dam the water is channeled through a tunnel into the Russian River, and most of it will eventually end up in Sonoma and Marin counties. In 1922, Scott Dam, 12 miles upstream from the Cape Horn Dam, was built and Lake Pillsbury was created. The two dams regulate the water diverted into the tunnel that amounts now to 58 billion gallons annually, or 97% of all the water coming down from the mountains.
Siphoning off that much water from the Eel has had a devastating effect on the fish population. In a recent law suit by the Friends of the Eel River against PG&E and the Sonoma County Water Agency it was stated that because of the diversion of the water from the Eel, "Humboldt County's reliance upon a once-thriving commercial and sport fishery has collapsed," and has caused a financial loss over $10 million annually.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE NWP, 1914: Granted, under today's environmental rules some of the construction practices during those days would not be tolerated, but the damage to the environment was probably relatively minor. "Most of the construction of the NWP right-of-way -was done by hand or with the aid of horses. " (The Northwesterner, publication by the NWP Historical Society) After the railroad from Willits to Eureka was completed, freight and passenger trains served the area well. Contrary to claims that the line never operated profitably, a 1963 statement by NWP's general manager George L. Morrison proves the opposite: "In spite of [maintenance being extremely costly], the railroad has operated in the black for the last ten years."
The railroad operated on a fairly reliable schedule until the disastrous 1964 flood that wiped out the tracks and bridges but also destroyed the highway system in the north coast counties. Opponents of the railroad maintain that several other floods occurred between 1914 and 1964. While it is true that during especially wet winters the railroad tracks received considerable damage from slides and washouts. Highway 101 suffered equally and was closed occasionally, as was the railroad.
OVERLOGGING, in addition to erosion caused by overgrazing, has equally harmed the fragile watershed of the Eel. Although it provided livelihoods for many in the north coast counties since the late 1800s, large-scale logging did not begin until the 1950s when bulldozers invaded the forests. Quotes from the "Watershed Analysis Report for the Upper Main Eel River Watershed, 5/1955, US Dept. of Agriculture - US FS; US dept. of the Interior - BLM: "In some cases, unstable or potentially unstable areas of intermittent tributaries were impacted by road building and/or logging within what is now classified as riparian reserves. - There are 760 miles of road and about 3900 road/stream-crossing in this watershed. “ (This pertains only to the Upper Main Eel River watershed!) - Major congressional appropriations for road construction to support timber harvests occurred in the late 1950s and 1960s. The increased logging activity in the watershed was indicated by the amount of activity in the Corbin Creek drainage -where over 68 MMBF of timber was harvested from both public and private lands between 1955 and 1963. By the mid-1960s the increased harvest was also having a noticeable impact on the
watershed. - The roads were often wider than needed for logging, to allow public access to the forest. Many of the roads built in the 1950s and early 1960s were not designed to withstand large rainfall events. The road builders were unaware of the presence and extent of many unstable areas, resulting in many road failures during subsequent floods."
CONCLUSION: Considering the devastation the Eel River watershed has suffered since the late 1800s, it is not surprising that the fish have declined and the river is in bad shape. But to make the railroad solely responsible for this degradation is unfair, especially when some of the problems - like the overgrazing and the diversion of the water - happened before the railroad was built. Besides, the damage that occurred in the higher regions of the watershed, or the damage that happened to the banks on the opposite side of the right-of-way, had nothing at all to do with the railroad.
In 1990, many people - including environmental groups - had supported the decision to acquire the railroad out of bankruptcy. It was a commitment to a great project and based on that commitment, the counties and the state went ahead with the allocation of the 116 funds and additional moneys. How can we now - as the state is finally coming through with the funds that were needed all these years - back away from our commitment?
Here is what we will lose if indeed the NCRA would decide against the reopening of the north end:
* An environmentally friendly transportation system that is ten times safer than cars, is four times as fuel efficient, can be back in service after an earthquake much sooner than highways, and uses a far more energy-efficient, incredible even-grade route between Willits and Eureka compared to the many hills on Highway 101.
* A chance for the North Coast counties to develop new revenues from tourism based on rail excursions interconnecting with cruise ships.
* The opportunity for commuter rail in Sonoma and Marin to be successful because the freight and excursion service on the north end will help paying for the maintenance of the line.
* The chance for Humboldt County to gain 3,000 additional jobs generated by a railroad/harbor alliance.
* Since the shipping channels in the harbor have been improved, the harbor has experienced increased business, and according to a 1997 economic study, Humboldt County is expected to increase its gross regional product by $400 million by the year 2015. (David Hull, CEO: Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District)
* The logic to fight Caltrans' widening of Highway 101 to a four-lane (or six to eight lanes in Sonoma and Marin?) Freeway all the way to the Oregon border.
We would waste the $10 million from the 1990 "Clean Air and Rail Initiative" (Proposition 116) that was used to acquire the railroad, and at least $20 million that was used since 1990 to maintain and the north end of the line. But worse than that, someone (Counties, state?) would have to pay for the dismantling of the line including bridges, piers and culverts and environmental clean up of the canon. The cost for this huge project has been estimated anywhere between $100 million and more than one billion.
EPIC and CATS have excellent reputations as good, solid environmental groups. Considering that railroads are much superior environmentally to any other modes of transportation, it is not comprehensible and a great pity that these groups have chosen to attack the railroad. I encourage our members to address the boards and leaders of the environmental group you belong to and urge them to support the railroad. And let us know. Let's all work together to make this big project a full success!
NWP Ferry Connections and the Larkspur Trestle
In his March 26 article, Dick Spotswood explains that the Golden Gate Bridge District is considering a study to look into the feasibility of ferry service to a new location at the north end of San Pablo Bay, possibly at Novato or Petaluma. Dick Spotswood discusses the various problems. He states that inter-Marin or Sonoma -Marin commuting accounts for 75% of traffic; only 25% of the southbound morning traffic continues to San Francisco. He writes, "A Novato ferry run, like the Vallejo and Larkspur service, will experience a lack of a lack of midday riders. With a downtown centered ferry terminal, only Sausalito can muster a significant year around mid day patronage thanks to a long-standing tourist trade."
Terminating the NWP at San Rafael or even further north accommodates few. A Novato ferry run, like the Vallejo and Larkspur service, will experience a lack of midday riders. With a downtown centered ferry terminal, only Sausalito can "muster a significant year around midday patronage thanks to a long-standing tourist trade." So why keep ignoring the significance of the almost unobstructed right-of- way to the ideal and in most ways perfect terminal, the terminal that offers the shortest, fastest and most scenic connection to San Francisco? Why ignore the terminal of SAUSALITO, which has provided daily ferry service since 1855 and is still providing service today?
All of Marin's commuters could be accommodated (to the north and south) while providing ideal San Francisco connections, and no additional parking would be needed because the ferry riders would arrive by train! Some of the NWP tracks still remain in Sausalito as well as several of the stations in the area: a Sausalito station, the substantial and well-maintained station in Mill Valley, and the old station in Larkspur.
It is extremely important to preserve the railroad right-of-way south of San Rafael, and the recent attempt by the City of Larkspur - with the apparent consent of the GGBD - to destroy the railroad trestle is going in the opposite direction. Marin Advocates for Transit are asking the NWPRA to agendize a discussion about this issue at their next meeting. MCRS supports this move and will urge the NWPRA to become involved in this matter. Letters of support from our members would also help. Unless we make our opposition known loud and clear, the Larkspur trestle will be torn down.
Trains were running to Sausalito until 1971 and maps from
that time still include all the NWP tracks. Let's save this precious train/trail/ferry connection and not make another very costly and foolish mistake as in 1958 when the Key System tracks were removed from the Bay Area and planning for the expensive BART project began!
Those of our readers who believe the recent newspaper stories concerning the termination of the contract between the NCRA and the private freight operator, John Darling, the president of NWPY, probably find our headline too optimistic. But before we go into details, an explanation might be called for who “NWPY” really is, and at the same time define the various names that have been used incorrectly by the newspapers:
NWP: the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, tracks, right-of-ways, bridges, tunnels etc. This name dates back to 1906 when Southern Pacific Company and Santa Fe incorporated the railroad.
NCRA: North Coast Railroad Authority, a public agency that controls the NWP from Healdsburg to Eureka, and whose seven commissioners have been appointed by the Supervisors of Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties.
NWPRA: Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority, also a public agency that controls the NWP from Healdsburg south to Novato and from there to Lombard or Napa Junction. The seven directors are representatives from the board of supervisors of Marin (2), the Golden Gate Bridge District (3) and the NCRA (2).
NWPY: Northwestern Pacific Railway Co. LLC. In 1998, the NCRA signed a contract with John Darling, president of Railways-Inc., who became the private freight operator. In 1999, the contract was terminated and renewed with Mr. Darling’s new company, NWPY.
The newspaper stories referred to on top have not only confused the names, they also got the facts mixed up, telling only one side of the story. Don Thompson from AP, who had crafted a derogatory story about the NWP earlier this year, titled his article “Napa-to-Petaluma railroad at end of financial line”. The NCRA has responded in great detail to a story in the Press Democrat. Here are some excerpts: “The old saying there are two sides to every story certainly applies in this case. John Darling Chief Executive Officer /Chief Financial Officer for the contract carrier – Northwestern Pacific Railway Co. LLC (NWPY)– has made statements to the press which are false.
Darling overlooks certain facts in his assertion that NCRA has outstanding invoice amounts due NWPY. In February 2001, the NCRA paid approximately $2.1 million to Rail-Ways, Inc. This was the company Mr. Darling was operating under for construction work he performed on the line. The source of these funds was from the State’s Transportation Congestion Relief Program (TCRP) legislation signed by the Governor in July 2000. A release was executed by Mr. Darling indicating full and final settlement on all amounts due as of June 30, 2000. Rail-Ways, Inc. has since filed for protection from creditors under the U.S. Bankruptcy – Chapter 11 Code. Several creditors were left unpaid – hence the Chapter 11 filing. One such creditor, a sub-contractor, initiated legal action resulting in a judgment. This sub-contractor filed a motion with the court requesting the court keep NCRA from making any further payments either to Rail-Ways, Inc. or NWPY. The court approved that request and it remains in effect at this time. Mr. Darling’s contention that NCRA is not paying his invoices and he has been forced to discontinue service because of that is not supported by the fact that absent a dispute regarding amounts owed, NCRA cannot make any payments to NWPY or Rail-Ways, Inc.
Mr. Darling claims NCRA owes him $320,000 in maintenance costs. Reviewing the most recent invoices received from NWPY for maintenance shows $120,000 as invoiced to date. This amount has not been verified as actual maintenance costs on the portion of the line that is currently open. Also, Mr. Darling conveniently neglects to mention the offsetting amounts due NCRA. These amounts exceed the invoiced amounts. Even if no court order existed, keeping NCRA from paying NWPY’s invoices, the fact is amounts claimed as due for maintenance costs would be more than offset by the amounts due NCRA from NWPY.”
More details can be found on the web. For those NWP supporters who have been watching the NCRA meetings closely, the September 19 decision came as no surprise. The long-awaited inspections by the Federal Railroad Administration and the CPUC were finally done in late August and revealed serious defects. This resulted in another delay for the opening north to Windsor – more broken promises. Many people felt that it was about time that the NCRA Board severed its ties with Mr. Darling’s company. Discussions are going on now who might come in as an interim operator to pick up the service on the southern end that is still open until a permanent freight operator has been found. The NCRA hopes to announce new information soon.
A contract for the rehabilitation work between Windsor and Willits was awarded at the August meeting in Eureka to the lowest bidder, Stacy and Witbeck, Inc. The bid came in at $888,565, which is $285,565 above the amount set aside for the project, but Caltrans has found the additional funding. Caltrans is also trying to secure additional funds to complete the 20 miles between Penngrove and Windsor; work that Mr. Darling had promised to have done over a month ago. Stacy & Witbeck began with the work and have been observed by “rail-watchers” doing their job. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Equally important for getting the railroad going again is the hiring of an environmental consultant. The Willdan/HNTB group has been selected and will soon start the fieldwork, both on the North end and the South end of the line. They will make individual assessments of the overall needs, including the scope of work needed to re-establish service from Willits to Humboldt Bay.
The status of FEMA’s Environmental Assessment: The Department of Fish and Game provided a low level, slow flight through the Eel River Canyon in order to obtain photographs of the slides and other environmental issues that need to be addressed in the Environmental Assessment FEMA is working on. The NCRA has been assured that once the data collected from this flight is available, FEMA can make the necessary edits to the document. This item will be discussed with FEMA very soon and most likely, there will be information available at the October Board Meeting.
There have not been any drastic changes since we reported on the termination of the contract between the NCRA and the freight operator, Northwestern Pacific Railway Company, in our October newsletter. The track work from Windsor (Sonoma County) to Willits (Mendocino County) by the construction firm of Stacy & Whitbeck has continued on schedule until heavy rains slowed things down during the later part of November and the beginning of December. (Current rainfall at Emile’s Station was 25” on December 14th.) The expected completion of the job by the end of the year has been changed to some time in January. So far, the search for an interim freight operator has not met with success. The NCRA will soon issue another RFP.
At the October NCRA meeting in Willits it was announced that FEMA has again proposed to the NCRA to reconsider using the expected FEMA relief funds of $8.3 million for rehabilitation work north of Willits for an “alternate project” instead, i.e., using it on the southern part of the line. When FEMA had made this proposal originally in March of 2000, the federal agency had made it clear that if the NCRA would go this route, the section north of Willits most likely would not be eligible for possible future relief funding, in other words, accepting FEMA’s proposal was equal to abandoning the north. So it was not surprising that this proposal caused a lot of arguments, both at the Willits meeting and the November meeting in Eureka. The meeting hall in Eureka was packed and many people and public officials from Humboldt County stressed the point that they will not give up the reopening of the line all the way to Humboldt County. They also expressed their fear that accepting FEMA’s proposal would hurt the rehabilitation of the northern end of the line. They were even doubtful when it was explained that shifting FEMA’s $8.3 million to the south would not happen before the California Transportation Commission had agreed to transfer $8.3 million earmarked for the south (part of the $60 million) to be used for repairs on the north end. In any case, the NCRA Board passed resolution 2001-05, reaffirming its policy to reestablish and maintain the entire NWP line from Humboldt County to Marin and Napa County. However, Executive Director Bridges will look into the issue of the alternate project and at the same time continue to obtain the information necessary for the Environmental Assessment by FEMA. Caltrans has completed the audit concerning the contract with the environmental consultants, the Willdan/HNTB group, and the signing of the contract is imminent. As weather permits, the environmental consultants will begin the fieldwork soon.
In many parts of the country, historic railroad stations are being restored and brought back into service. Shining examples in the north coast region are the Santa Rosa and the Cloverdale stations. While the Cloverdale station is a brand-new building, the Santa Rosa station dates back to 1904. Here are some other stations on the NWP tracks that are still in existence or in the process of restoration, let’s begin in the south:
SAN RAFAEL: The largest surviving NWP depot is in good condition. Oddly enough, there is apparently no move to include this building as a station for the planned commuter rail service. We hope that the planners will change their mind.
NOVATO: Unfortunately, SMART has not chosen this depot as the main Novato station, it only will become “Whistle Stop”. But we hope that the restoration of this 84-year old building will be only a matter of time.
PETALUMA: An attractive, mission-style building. It was used for office space until recently, but needs work. The City of Petaluma wants to restore the building.
HEALDSBURG: On October 15, an exiting story by Steve Hart was published in the Press Democrat, titled “All aboard once again”. Healdsburg received $2 million for the restoration of this historic depot. According to Bruce Albee, General manager of the Sonoma County Transit, construction should begin in 2003. Even if regular passenger service has not returned to the NWP by then, the station will become a transit center for excursion trains and buses.
HOPLAND: Since the original Cloverdale depot burned down in 1990, there are very few of the old-style depots left and Hopland 's station is one of them. Therefore it should be preserved by all means. It is in good condition and serves as the headquarters for the local volunteer fire department.
UKIAH: The Mendocino Transit Authority is now proposing a transit center north of town. The depot area was not available because of legal problems. However, MTA is still interested in a smaller transit center at the depot site.
WILLITS: Although the station belongs now to the California Western Railroad, originally, it had been built by the NWP. It served as an NWP depot until 1971 when the Bud-Car service ended between Willits and Eureka, thirteen years after the regular passenger service from San Rafael to Eureka had been abandoned.. Because of its continuous use by the NWP and the CWRR, the station has been fairly well maintained. But it also will receive a major uplifting soon. Funding has been approved for the depot as a "multimodal station". Besides the CWRR trains, the Amtrak buses have stopped at the depot for ten years, and some CWRR passengers transfer to or from the Amtrak buses. MTA buses also stop at the station, and - we hope - some day NWP passenger trains.
FORT SEWARD: The picturesque station is a great concern to the friends of the NWP. Sitting out there isolated on the almost
abandoned NWP tracks it is an easy target for vandalism. It is urgent to quickly find a resident caretaker or tenant to safeguard the building. It would be unfortunate if this historic depot gets damaged.
EUREKA: The old station fell victim to Southern Pacific's demolition binge of many of their wooden depot buildings during the late sixties and early seventies. However, on November 24th, a story on the Eureka Times-Standard by David Anderson and Sara Watson Arthurs under the headline “Eureka may get its depot back” gives hope for a brighter future. It details the possibilities for a reconstruction of the old depot and on November 20th, the Eureka City Council voted 4 –1 to apply for funding through a state transportation fund. The Northern Counties Logging Interpretive Association (NCLIA), who hopes to offer train rides around Humboldt Bay in the not too distant future, came up with the idea to rebuild the
station. At its meeting in Eureka last month, the NCRA agreed to lease the property at Second and Commercial streets if the city will construct the station there. According to Marcus Brown, the director of the NCLIA, the project could probably be constructed for about $400,000. He envisions the depot to serve also as a transit center for the town.
LATEST NCRA NEWS
In December we had explained FEMA's "alternate project" proposal to the NCRA: instead of using the $8.3 million earmarked for rehabilitation work between Willits and Eureka, it could be used for capital expenditures on the south end. This had been strongly rejected by Humboldt County at the November NCRA meeting. It was discussed again at the Healdsburg meeting and in January, at the Willits meeting by representatives from FEMA and the California Office of Emergency Services (OES). They explained in detail the "improved project" and the "alternate project" and that there was no guarantee that the money would still be available if the process took too long. It came as a surprise to many of the attendees that in February of 1998, after the northern end of the line had been closed, FEMA had set an 18- month deadline for the NCRA to provide the necessary documents to apply for the disaster funding.
But in 1998, money was extremely tight; there was no staff available to prepare the tremendous paperwork FEMA's required. Subsequently, FEMA extended the deadline until February 19, 2002. Because of bureaucratic delays, the NCRA had not been able to respond to the questions asked by FEMA in order to complete the Environmental Assessment (EA). Now, with the environmental consulting firm Willdan on board since last month, the NCRA will finally be able to provide the needed information. At the February meeting, FEMA extended the deadline again to June thirtieth when Willdan expects to have the work done.
Many people showed up at the meeting expressing their support for the NWP, urging he board not to accept FEMA’s “alternate project” proposal, but to stay with the “improved project”, i.e., finishing the EA and go ahead with the repair work.
Retired CPUC lawyer Jim Quinn, a long-time rail advocate and loyal friend of the NWP, spoke eloquently in support of the line. He said despite of FEMA’s apprehension about resistance from hard-to-please environmentalists, “FEMA’s feet should be kept to the fire.” He stated that because of the time constraint (public input was restricted to 3 minutes) it would be necessary to sidestep a number of startling developments. He explained, “These include how the planning process has completely overshadowed the repair process itself. Exhibit A for this phenomenon is the Willdan Company, which will perform no repair work, but just last month received a hefty $15.5 million contract from the NCRA.”
According to NCRA executive director Max Bridges the $15.5 million is just an estimate of what may be needed to do all the work before the line north of Willits can be re-opened: upgrading, stabilization, and environmental remediation. So far Willdan has been authorized to do the Consent Decree assessment for $100,000 and the Capital Project assessment for $500,000. As funds become available, additional work will be done, like engineering and planning for the stabilization of landslides.
Nevertheless, if one compares this to the approximately $17 million it will cost to prepare the EIR for the 750 miles of the new $25 billion high-speed project, one wonders why the planning for the repair of the 140miles of existing railroad north of Willits can be that expensive.
Quinn concluded his statements, “FEMA has a duty to stand firm and fulfill its responsibility. The North Coast pays taxes too and is counting on FEMA to do its job. In summary, the “alternate plan” that would send dollars south is a strange and almost wacky proposition that roundly deserves to be voted down.”
The NCRA board voted five to one in favor of staying with the “improved project”. Humboldt NCRA Commissioner Leo Sears who said pursuing the alternate project was “chasing moonbeams” had made the motion. He had been supported by Daniel Opalach, a Humboldt NCRA Commissioner since 1999, who stated, “I’d like to see us set the stake in the ground.”
But there are still many hurdles before the actual work north of Willits can begin after the EA has been completed. The public will have 30 to 45 days for comments and, depending on the responses, an EIS could be required that would add another 18 months. But why is the completion of the job not expected until fall of 2006, according to information on the NCRA’s website? Why will the repair of the 140 miles take two years and 9 months? In 1999, BNSF did a 120-mile maintenance blitz between Fresno and Bakersfield. They installed 76,000 new wood cross ties, resurfaced 100 track miles, cleaned and replaced the ballast, laid six track miles of new steel rail, and improved 40 highway-rail grade crossings. The job was done in 13 days.
If indeed the repair on the NWP will take until fall of 2006, it will have taken a total of eight years to repair the tracks. This is outrageous; remember, this is NOT an abandoned railroad, because when it was shut down in January of 1998 to be repaired, the railroad was still running freight on a fairly regular basis. Can anybody imagine Highway 101 being closed for eight years because several slides occurred? Caltrans, unlike the NWP, doesn’t have to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops. Why are these two transportation modes not treated equally?
If it had taken as long for the transcontinental railroad to get built as it takes to get the 140 miles north of Willits repaired, SP and UP wouldn’t have met at Promontory Point in 1869 but in 1940! And remember, this was done with pickaxe and shovel! One cannot help wondering who is lurking in the background trying to destroy the NWP? (Talking about the transcontinental railroad, there is a chance that Humboldt County and the NWP could become the site for a feature film on the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!)
On the positive side, the Eureka Harbor District is the lead agency for a “Port of Humboldt Bay Harbor Revitalization Plan”, with the City of Eureka, Humboldt County, and the NCRA being part of the team. Grants of a total of $372,000 (Phase I and II) have been applied for and Sacramento’s decision is expected soon. With the marketing part of the plan the NCRA would meet the requirements for further funding.
By Johanna Burkhardt
Since we published our last newsletter in March, NCRA meetings in March, April, May and June took place. Although many items got discussed and taken care of, overall, not much has changed. The railroad still lies idle and - according to estimates we already mentioned in March – the line is not expected to reopen to Eureka until the fall of 2006. The most significant, present development toward this goal is the work of the environmental consulting firm of Willdan. The Capital Project and Environmental Remediation Assessments progressed as expected and were completed at the end of June. They are now under review by the various other State and Federal agencies that are involved in oversight and programming funding. Monthly status reports have been made at the NCRA meetings, and at the April meeting Willdan announced that in general, the situation in the Eel River canyon was not as bad as it had been expected after 4 years of non-maintenance; no major new slides occurred. This was again confirmed during a slide show at the May meeting in Eureka.
Another interesting development in the form of a prospective, private buyer for the NCRA-owned part of the line (Healdsburg to Eureka) surfaced at the beginning of the year. Ted Niemeyer, president of Niemeyer and Associates, an Illinois-based company, issued a press release that he was interested in buying the railroad. He followed up with a letter to the NCRA, though the board made it clear the railroad is not for sale and encouraged Niemeyer to respond to NCRA’s RFP for a freight operator due by the end of June.
Instead of responding to the RFP, Niemeyer made an offer to purchase the railroad on June 7 and requested occupancy and ability to start work by June 24. In the offer and at a presentation at the June 19 NCRA meeting he promised to use his best efforts to return the railroad to service within one year. For all the people who have worked many years to reestablish the NWP and who had their hopes being dashed again and again, the Niemeyer offer sounds great and I wish I could join them and support this move. But there is this nagging feeling this sounds too good to be true. I felt apprehensive when I read Ted Niemeyer’s personal resume about his work with the Chicago and North Western Transportation company from 1971 to 1989: he had “directed or accomplished many functions that were vital to the success of projects that had major impacts on the continuing economic viability of the company, including construction of a railroad line and support facilities to serve the Wyoming Powder River basin ($290 Million), abandonment of over 3,000 miles of unprofitable lines, upgrading hundreds of miles of profitable branch lines with mostly loan or grant funds and the $80 million rehabilitation of Chicago commuter terminal.” In 1983, Southern Pacific had also considered the line from Willits to Eureka as “unprofitable” and tried to abandon it…
Reading Niemeyer’s 3-page offer, I stumbled over some sentences in the second paragraph: “As surety, ERR (Eel River Railroad) will offer a reversion of ownership to NCRA and/or the State of California as is, if the right of way cannot be operated as a railroad or in ERR’s sole discretion. This does not preclude the ERR from selling, merging, consolidating all or any part of the railroad to another owner or railroad operator.” This all could spell trouble; it brings back ghosts of the railroad’s past.
There is no mentioning of a purchase price in Niemeyer’s offer except that he will assume the $12 million Q-Fund loan from the Federal Government that is due in 2013. He estimates that he needs about $ 100 million to rehabilitate the railroad. As a private owner he would not be able to access public funds. An NCRA ad hoc committee is in the process to review the purchase offer and they are also reviewing the only proposal they received in response to the RFP. It was submitted by Woodside Consulting.
Cost Evaluation of two plans for service from Petaluma to San Rafael
By Chris Burkhardt
Last summer, as I was walking along the tracks from San Rafael to Novato, I mused about the tranquility of this beautiful stretch compared to the noisy turmoil caused by the congestion on Highway 101 visible in the distance. But I also felt depressed that this perfectly serviceable mode of transportation has been wasting and deteriorating away since 1985. In spite of repeated attempts of reviving passenger excursion, now, 17 years later, nothing has happened. For instance, in 1997, it was planned to provide NWP passenger service from: 1) Novato in the north, as well as from: 2) the Marin transit center (San Rafael NWP depot) in the south, to midpoint at the Marin Civic Center in Terra Linda for the county fair in July. Cost estimates for the 10.8 mile stretch (to FRA Class II, 30 mph speed capability) were as follows:
1. Repair rail/track/ties/ballast $ 200,000
Repair signals 50,000
Operation of equipment at 5,000 a day
for 14 days 70,000
3. Equipment rental 30,000
4. Contingencies 50,000
Possibly, this did not include replacement of some bridge pilings of the Gallinas Drawbridge approaches at milepost 20.91 and repair of the smaller timber trestle at milepost 24.81. (All NWP mileage is measured from San Francisco Ferry terminal; Sausalito is milepost 6.5.) It’s likely the two bridges did not yet require repair.
The main reason given for failure of the fair-demo train was the promoters’ inability to obtain the “up to date” (expensive) new passenger cars they insisted upon. (“Rails to the future” was their theme.) I have ridden Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor trains, CalTrain and BART; if anything, these trains
are less luxurious than most railroad coaches from the 1800's to the 1950's. Why didn't they use the North Coast daylight coaches for this purpose? In the meantime, these coaches and others are being seriously vandalized in the Willits yard. Old railroad coaches – like the often jam-packed, 1895 to 1948 streetcars of the Market Street to Fisherman's Wharf F-Line, are the best promotion. These interesting cars now operate daily from 6:00 a.m. to midnight on the approximately 10-mile long round trip. They are extremely popular, carrying about 20,000 passengers daily. It's very unfortunate that the 1997 fair-demo train didn't materialize, when less than one million could have brought the train back into operation.
On the other extreme, SMART'S year 2000 commuter rail implementation plan estimates costs of $23.6 million for the 21.5 miles from San Rafael to Petaluma for FRA Class IV 70 mph speed capability. This is over 23 times as much for equivalent mileage! It consists of $15.5 million for track work , $ 6.2 million for signals and $1.9 million for bridge repair. Listed bridge repair (including 35% contingency) consists of $975,000 to replace the wooden Gallinas drawbridge approaches and $ 315,000 to replace the timber trestle at milepost 24.81, both with reinforced concrete, and $591,000 for the Petaluma Creek Swing bridge at milepost 37.10.
Additionally, (to the $23.6 million!), SMART proposes to spend $ 6.53 million to replace the following stations: $ 1.99 million for the well-maintained, attractive San Rafael Depot $2.54 Million for the historic Novato depot and $ 2 million for the Petaluma depot that is still in reasonable condition. Disregarding most major existing facilities compounds start-up costs. Their $23.6 million total is not to save the NWP but to replace it! SMART is practicing extreme obsolescence; even dictating new rails. (Most existing rails on this stretch are a gigantic 110 plus lb/yard size that dwarf the adequate 75 lb rails used extensively on the California Western. Already has the scrap value of the Petaluma to San Rafael rails been listed at $ 0.5 million.
Considering that the proposed $23.6 million for tracks and signals consist of $9.1 million primarily to replace existing rails, $ 6 million to completely redesign grade crossings and $6.2* million to add extensive additional signals for the 70 mph speed, it's apparent this cost would be far lower for basic maintenance of existing tracks and signals to achieve reasonable 30 mph FRA Class 11 standards. Having walked from San Rafael to Hamilton Field, it is obvious that most ties and virtually all rails are in good condition as is reflected in the low 1997 fair-demo trains maintenance cost.
Also, considering the impressive high quality modification of the Larkspur trestle in 1991 using all wood components like new pilings and braces, 1 am not convinced that it is really worthwhile to replace the wood portions of the other bridges with concrete.
However, even if the almost $1.9 million were spent on concrete bridge work, no more than $ 1 million for track work and $0.5 million for existing signal repair should easily achieve FRA Class I] standards. This total of $3.4 million could reasonably be allocated without a tax initiative.
Not only are SMART'S goals financially formidable, they are also controversial. High speed trains are noisy, attract new long-distance commuters, population increase, development etc. and guarantee major environmental opposition. In San Rafael even more ugly concrete sound walls costing an additional five million are listed in SMART'S report.
The beginning of train service is eternally being held hostage by government planners' expensive progress indoctrination. Even for those in favor of higher speeds this is poor diplomacy. Simple, affordable FRA Class II service can recover usage of tracks into San Rafael with minimum political obstacles. Then, after several years of affordable, actual service, not years of waiting, modernization should be a separate issue.
· These values are a total of $0.4 million lower, because SMART also adds $0.9 million cost for sidings and layover storage required for high-speed trains, and then deducts $0.5 million for rail scrap value as mentioned.
NCRA: Changes, new developments
There was an unexpected surprise at the Willits NCRA meeting in October. The Board of Directors of the North Coast Railroad Authority announced the appointment of Doug Christy as Executive Director, replacing Max Bridges who is going to retire next spring. The Board appreciated Bridges’ advanced notice and felt that now was the appropriate time to make the change as the NCRA begins the environmental process leading to projects that will reopen and upgrade the approximate 300 miles from Humboldt County to Lombard in Napa County. The Board also praised Bridges’ hard work since he accepted the position as executive director in 1999. Chairman Ripple commented, “Max has been an asset to the Authority, enjoyable to work with and will be missed.” During his years as director, Bridges’ experience of the bureaucratic process was very valuable dealing with state and federal agencies in endless meetings ironing out the path for the railroad’s future. During the next few months until his retirement, Bridges will aid Christy in the changeover.
Christy has held the position of Assistant Executive Director/Project Manager for the Authority since May 2001. He brought to that position significant railroad experience which will be helpful in his new position. Christy said 'I welcome the challenge and look forward to helping complete the mission to reestablish rail service to the entire line'. "
There were also changes on the board. In June, Bruce Burton, the Mayor of Willits, took over Jake McKenzie’s seat representing a city; and in September, John Woolley, a Supervisor in Humboldt County, replaced Dan Opalach. We welcome Bruce Burton and John Woolley and thank Dan Opalach for his conscientious work during his tenure on the Board.
Other developments: At the NCRA meeting in Eureka in August, it was made clear that the railroad authority doesn't have the power to sell the North Coast's railroad without an act of the state Legislature. All North Coast representatives, on the state and federal level, want the railroad to remain in public ownership.
Soon after this the California Office of Emergency Services (OES) notified the NCRA that FEMA is willing to release the $8.3 million that had been earmarked for rehabilitation work north of Willits. The interesting news was that FEMA was offering the full amount, without the 10% discount it had previously demanded, even if this money was used somewhere else on the line. Before the funds can be released, the NCRA must provide information to FEMA for a Damage Survey Report, outlining the purpose and need for the restoration and rehabilitation of the rail service. Then a preliminary environmental assessment will be prepared determining the scope, the cost and the schedule for the project. The NCRA also must create a Memorandum of Understanding between all the agencies involved in the process. Since it involves federal money, the Federal Highway Administration has been chosen as the lead agency. Once all these steps have been taken, Wildane Company can proceed with the environmental work and will be reimbursed by FEMA as each activity has been completed. Originally, these tasks were to be funded from the $60 million of Traffic Congestion Relief (TCR), but now the TCR funds will be used for future work because there is the possibility that the FEMA funds could suddenly disappear as FEMA officials already warned in January. One can expect that all the preliminary work will be done by the end of the year and then the rehabilitation process can begin. One of the most frustrating aspects is that the bureaucratic and environmental control of the rehabilitation process does not allow for any preventive maintenance now. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) made it clear that they would not release any money for this purpose although supervisors from Humboldt and Mendocino County, as well as the League of Women Voters and many others have urged the CTC to do so. However, even if there were money available from other sources, no work could be done because of the environmental and bureaucratic restrictions, and also because the NCRA has no freight operator at this time. Small emergencies that could arise with the beginning of the rainy season, can be funded from a $50,000 contingency fund the NCRA Board set aside at the October meeting.
Assembly Bill 2224:
Assemblyman Joseph Nation’s bill creates a new entity, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District, that would eventually provide passenger train service between Cloverdale and San Rafael, along the Northwestern Pacific rail corridor that runs along Highway 101. It was signed into law by Governor Davis.
The most interesting item at the December meeting in Healdsburg was that the NCRA office would be moved to Ukiah within the next few months. The Board authorized Doug Christy, the executive director, to enter into a lease for temporary office space until the NWP depot on Perkins Street has been renovated.
The Board also authorized Christy to begin the hiring process of an administrative assistant. Max Bridges, the former executive director, is now retiring by the end of this month.
A decision had been expected by the end of the year whether the NCRA would keep the North-western Pacific Railways Company, LLC and Northwestern California Railway Engineering Corp on as a freight operator, but it has been postponed. The “Standstill Agreement” has been extended to the end of March 2003.
NEWS ALERT: Talking about the future, your immediate help is needed: Although not confirmed, rumors have it that the remaining balance of the original $60 million for rehabilitation of the NWP (approximately $ 41 million) could be in jeopardy. Supposedly, due to the extensive state budget deficits, several projects that had been funded but were not contracted out yet have been cancelled. If the NWP funding would meet the same fate, we could bury all hope that the railroad will ever be operating again.
Please urge our legislators to protect the funding for the NWP. Taking this money away would mean the end of our railroad, and would waste all the efforts that have been made during the last 2 years toward rehabilitation. The North Coast needs this railroad!
Sorry, we have nothing exiting to report, still waiting for several matters to be resolved:
1. The approval of a bill by State Senator Wesley Chesbro.
Upon a resolution by the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) Board, Senator Chesbro introduced legislation when Mendocino County’s counsel questioned the legality of elected officials (supervisors or city council persons) serving on the NCRA. The March NCRA meeting was cancelled when executive director Doug Christy and other NCRA representatives had to travel to Sacramento in support of Chesbro’s new bill. Because of this problem, the newly elected NCRA Chairman John Woolley, a supervisor from Humboldt County, and second Vice Chairman Bruce Burton, a city council man from Willits, had resigned temporarily from the NCRA board. The Governor’s approval of the bill is expected by May.
2. The final outcome of Governor Gray Davis’ budget and how it will affect the NCRA and SMART II:
Our patience gets tested waiting for Governor Davis’ new budget. In the meantime, while the future of the Traffic Congestion Relief Plan (TCRP) funds ($41 million left from the original $60 million) is uncertain other funding possibilities are explored. Fortunately, the NCRA has been assured by FEMA that the $8.7 million will be available. Together with old TEA money (federal funds) in limbo, this adds up to about $17 million that can be used to continue with the environmental assessment work. Executive Director Doug Christie hopes to present the final approval at the May meeting in Eureka. Christy has also applied for a total of $52 million of new TEA 21 (federal) funds, a move that was supported by Mendocino Council of Governments.
3. The results of the stand-still period with the NWPY (John Darling’s company):
At the March 7 meeting the “stand-still “ period with the NWPY had been extended from March 31 to the end of April. The company had tried since last fall to find investors backing its freight operations. Now the NCRA has taken over an active role, working closely together with John Darling’s company and meeting with the private sector (shippers) interested in investing in the railroad. The focus is on aggregate – sand, gravel and rocks. California is importing this commodity from either Mexico or Canada, an expensive and energy-wasting undertaking. Executive Director Christy told MCRS that he is setting up the railroad to succeed and he sees a positive future arising from this public/private partnership. He expects to have negotiations finalized for the May meeting to be discussed and acted upon by the NCRA Board.
Since January 1, SMART and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority have been combined into one agency, SMART II. Assemblyman Joe Nation had been responsible for this positive move. At the swearing in of the new SMART II board on January 15, Nation said, “I will work with you to ensure we do not lose focus on rail as part of the transportation solution for the North Bay.” But because of the state’s deficit, SMART also has financial problems. It had been promised $37 million of TCRP money in 2000 and so far has used only a small amount. And what about the money outstanding from proposition 116 of 1990, (approximately $ 28 million) and the funds recently appropriated for opening the Larkspur tunnel? There could also be a problem with the planned two-county sales tax initiative for 2004 to raise funds for the 75 miles of commuter rail because last fall Marin County began considering a sales tax initiative for bus transit and roads in Marin for November. But with the possibility of raising the sales tax to balance the state budget, Marin had second thoughts about the initiative for this year. On March 27, the Marin County Supervisors and the Congestion Management Agency postponed the sales tax measure until March of 2004. The funds would only be used for bus transit; there will be no money for rail, ferries, Highway 101, and conservation of open space. Will Marin County still consider joining with Sonoma County in the planned rail initiative for November of 2004? The new development doesn’t make this very likely. One wonders if Sonoma shouldn’t forget about Marin and focus on a rail connection to the east, to the main line, the Capitol corridor and the Amtrak trains?
But the last word isn’t spoken; Marin’s initiative has yet to get input from all the cities and in a few months rail might get the support it deserves. It certainly would be a great loss to give up passenger rail into Marin. After all, the tracks are almost reaching as far south as the Larkspur shopping center, south of the controversial trestle the City of Larkspur wants to tear down and rail advocates want to preserve. In a discussion about the NWP right-of-way at the February SMART meeting, David Schonbrunn, from Marin Advocates for Transit, pointed out that “the trestle is crucial for preserving a grade that would allow future rail use”. The Bay Area’s largest regional mall could be served by rail because the NWP tracks are very close.
And there is still the unresolved question, which ferry connection the future rail service will use. In the MCRS “Rail & Ferry Report” (See order form) MCRS’s choice is the existing Larkspur ferry terminal. In contrast to San Quentin, Larkspur has the tracks and the terminal in place, implementation will be fast and cost low. One of the major objections to this site is
the access from the train to the ferry. An elevated structure would cost $13 million, but there is a less expensive way advocated by MCRS. On the north side of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard the NWP tracks run adjacent and at grade level with the Marin Airporter parking lot. A shuttle bus triggering the signals to green at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard could speed train passengers to the ferry safely within minutes. The April issue of “Trains” magazine discusses various forms of “peoplemovers” in an article “Alternative modes prompt cities to rethink transit”. It might be worthwhile to look into the various modes available.
After months of waiting, uncertainties and disappointments, there is a “light at the end of the tunnel”. We all were stunned when Director Doug Christie suddenly announced his resignation in April to accept an unexpected job in his home state. Now, on Friday August 1, the NCRA Board selected a new executive director from a panel of applicants.
Mitch Stogner will begin his new job on August 18. I had the pleasure to talk to him today about his expectations concerning this problem railroad. When I put down the receiver I felt more optimistic about the NWP than I had in a long time.
Mr. Stogner brings on board experience and knowledge that could prove to be priceless to the ailing railroad. He has 11 years of experience with the Bay Area Rapid Transit where his main job was to secure funding and financing for this big agency. We can only hope that he will put his expertise to work for the NWP and lead the railroad into a financially more stable future.
Prior to his position with BART, Mr. Stogner worked as administrative assistant and chief of staff for Congressman Doug Bosco, as senior assistant for the Assembly Democratic Caucus, and as administrative assistant for Assemblywoman Maxine Water.
Mr. Stogner knows his way around in Sacramento and Washington. He is looking forward to his new job, hopeful that he will be able to bring about positive changes. Mitch Stogner grew up in Sebastopol in Sonoma County, so this new position feels like coming home. Leaving a position with a huge multi-million agency for a job with a – so far – problem-plagued railroad is an interesting challenge to Mitch Stogner. The economic well being of the North Coast is important to him and he feels that a well-run railroad is essential to the region.
We applaud his optimism, welcome him in his new and challenging job and wish him the very best!
As mentioned above, Doug Christy resigned and left the NCRA in June. Rick Kennedy of Ukiah, a former Ukiah city engineer, took over the job as interim executive director. We thank Mr. Kennedy for jumping in at such short notice and taking care that the NCRA’s business continued smoothly.
Two items from the April newsletter that have been resolved in the meantime:
1. Senator Chesbro had introduced legislation that would allow elected officials to serve on the NCRA Board. This bill has been approved and consequently Humboldt Supervisor John Woolley resumed his seat on the NCRA and is now the acting chairman again.
2. The stand-still period with the NWPY (John Darling’s company) has been extended until the end of the year.
3. The long-awaited FEMA money is expected to be released to the NCRA within a month. Then rehabilitation work on the south end of the line can finally proceed.
100-foot section removed from
For several years the City of Larkspur has been trying to remove the NWP trestle spanning Sir Francis Drake Boulevard because, Larkspur maintains, the heavier traffic expected to result from planned new developments east of the structure could be mitigated at considerably lower costs if there were no trestle. Since the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (GGBHTD) and the County of Marin jointly own this section of railroad right-of-way, these two agencies had to agree to the removal. Considering the GGBHTD’s and the county’s anti-railroad record, it was no surprise that in spring of 2001 both the GGBHTD and the Marin Board of Supervisors approved the removal of the trestle although they had received 167 letters in opposition and none in support of the removal.
Subsequently, Larkspur issued a proposed negative declaration concerning the planned demolition. However, David Schonbrunn, representing Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF) filed papers objecting to the proposed negative declaration and Larkspur agreed to conduct an environmental review process before a final decision could be made. But on June 18, a truck carrying a boom crane ran into the trestle, causing - according to Larkspur - severe damage to the structure. After the repair had been completed within two days, the Larkspur City manager confirmed that the EIR process would proceed with the release of an initial study at the end of July.
What had not been disclosed to the public was a "Field Observation Record" by CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group, Inc. in Novato. This company had inspected the trestle immediately after the accident and again a day later for a more detailed inspection. The company also assisted Larkspur in implementing a temporary shoring program. The Field Observation Record's conclusion stated that significant damage had been observed and that "this portion of the trestle is such that it represents a potential hazard for the general public".
The company recommended that the "superstructure portion of the trestle between the northern abutment and the first pile group south of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard be removed". It might be interesting to note that this engineering company is partly owned by Mr. Dietrich Stroeh, a Board member on the GGBHTD board that approved the removal of the trestle in May of 2001. Also, according to a story in the “Headlight” of July/August 2001, Mr. Stroeh was the project engineer of the development east of the trestle that precipitated the widening of the road.
The question arises, was the truck driver cited who didn't observe the height limitations and caused the damage? Was compensation sought from the crane company’s insurance company? These issues are under investigation.
Although the public was led to believe that the EIR process would go on as planned, Larkspur sent a notice of exemption to the Office of Planning and Research in Sacramento on July 23 and the exemption was filed on July 30. Although GGBHTD and SMART were informed of the exemption, it was withheld from the public so that Larkspur could conduct its sneak attack.
On Friday, August 1, Larkspur issued a press release that the trestle would come down on Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Being a Friday it was impossible for rail advocates to notify all opponents of the demolition in time to protest the work. MCRS called, sent a fax and e-mail to the City of Larkspur on Monday morning protesting the demolition. We received a letter from Mr. Shamsapour, director of public works. He explained why Larkspur had to take the trestle down, public safety hazard etc. But he also informed us that an "environmental report has been completed and it concludes that there is no negative environmental impact from removal of the trestle". The report he mentioned is actually only an environmental checklist, one of the first steps toward the EIR process. Did he try to confuse us?
Larkspur’s press release deliberately misrepresented their engineer’s report overstating its claim of danger to the public and citing a non-existent finding of irreparability. A structural engineer hired by TRANSDEF determined that the trestle was "In no danger of collapse”. Due to the secrecy of Larkspur’s machinations, there was not time to get relief from the courts. By the end of the week the job was completed; a hundred foot section of the trestle had been removed. Again, the anti-railroad forces in Marin County have scored a victory. But rail supporters are investigating the legality of Larkspur’s actions and expect that the city will eventually have to replace the trestle after the roadwork has been completed.
In November, FEMA released its 37-page Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the south end (Willits to Lombard) of the NWP, encouraging a review and comments to the document from state agencies and the public. The comment period ended on December 22.
MCRS received a copy of the document, and we sent in our comments on time. We stressed the importance of the railroad for the whole region in general, pointed out that each truck taken off Highway 101 because of goods shipped by rail means relief to the already heavily congested highway, and urged FEMA to speed up the process.
The NCRA expects to receive the green light for the funding of the FEMA money by the end of January 2004 and at that point the rehab process could begin – at least theoretically. Most likely there will be delays again when the NCRA must jump through all the unavoidable bureaucratic hoops. Still, it looks as if the process is finally moving and if things go right, we can hope for opening of freight service by the middle of summer.
In August, MCRS had petitioned the NCRA to make use of its legislative mandate and become involved in the bankruptcy proceeding of the California Western Railroad, i.e., perhaps acquire the line. So MCRS organized a petition drive, asking the NCRA to look into the matter and perhaps consider acquiring the railroad.
We knew, of course, that considering the NCRA’s financial situation this was a tall order. But within a short time we had obtained about 1,000 signatures to the petition and the matter was brought to the attention of the NCRA board at the September meeting in Santa Rosa by three of our members, Mike Pechner, James Quinn, and Lionel Gambill.
The NCRA board was sympathetic to the issue and apparently had already discussed the matter before we even started the petition drive. But the bankruptcy trustee Mike Meyer and his attorney, David Chandler, attended the NCRA meeting and assured the board that at the present time several purchase offers had been made and that at this point there was no need for the NCRA to become involved.
Cal Park Tunnel Study to include rail
In October, the Marin County Board of Supervisors awarded a $544,354 contract to the Oakland-based Earth Tech Company to do the preliminary engineering on the Cal Park Hill Tunnel.
The entire scope of work for opening the Cal Park Hill Tunnel project is focusing on being able to accommodate future rail and will include attention to clearance for higher rail cars. The Oakland company was selected to do the design for the tunnel because EarthTech has a lot of support with the FRA.
The project is estimated to cost $7 million but Earth Tech will include a more precise cost estimate in their work and hopefully will arrive at a lower figure. In 1993, when the Marin County Supervisors asked Congress to fund the same job, the cost had been estimated at $3 million, and in Smart’s Commuter Rail Plan of 2000 the cost was stated with $4 million. Then why has the cost suddenly gone up to $7 million?
Thanks to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition $3,900,000 to fund the project has already been awarded by the State of California.
The Northwestern Pacific tracks from San Rafael to Larkspur pass through this tunnel and emerge just north of the Larkspur Landing Shopping Center, an easy1/4 mile walk to the Larkspur Ferry terminal. An elegantly designed pedestrian bridge connects the shopping center directly with the terminal.
The tracks still continue south from here to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard flanking the west side of the Larkspur Landing Shopping Center. Unfortunately, for now a big chunk of the historic NWP trestle is gone. However, including future rail use in the upcoming tunnel study gives rise for hope that not all is lost when it comes to rail in Marin County.
The tunnel is, and has been, Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s number one priority. It is a key link in its plan for the North-South Greenway bicycle and pedestrian path, planned to run from Sausalito through Sonoma County along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line.
(Adapted from a letter by Deb Hubsmith, Executive Director Marin County Bicycle Coalition, to a Northbay Rail Group) For more information visit the coalition’s website: http://www.marinbike.org
Since the beginning of the year we had hoped for the good news that the FEMA funds would finally be released to the NCRA. So month after month we kept putting off the newsletter but even now the money has not reached the NCRA. However, it is really getting very close and it looks as if work on the alternate project on the south end, from Willits to Napa Junction, can soon begin.
All the preliminaries have been dealt with. FEMA had prepared a “Programmatic Environmental Assessment” (PEA) and based on that FEMA issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” at the end of March.
The NCRA met FEMA’s deadline in early June to submit a list of equipment and materials to be purchased for the project. Estimates are $ 3 to 5 million for equipment and $2 to 3 million for materials. The FEMA funds can be used only for capital costs.
The final response concerning this list is expected very soon and, theoretically, the work could begin then. Yet there is the question who will be the operator? At the June meeting the NCRA Board unanimously voted to extend the Standstill Agreement with Railways, Inc until September 30, 2004. But Sierra Railroad, the new owner of the Skunk, is also interested in getting the contract as a freight operator. This makes good sense because Sierra Railroad is planning to resume freight trains on the Skunk train.
Sierra Railroad is also interested in excursion trains on the NWP tracks. Negotiations about these issues are going on and we hope that an agreement between the NCRA and an operator has been reached by the time FEMA finally releases the money. Then the rehab work can finally begin.
The fate of the T-21 money (approximately $8.6 million) and forgiveness of the Q-fund loan that had been successfully lobbied for by Congressman Mike Thompson is still uncertain until the Senate conference committee has agreed on the funding level of the federal transportation bill. We probably don’t see any action on this until congress reconvenes after Labor Day
On other NCRA matters: Humboldt County Commissioner Leo Sears, whose term was up recently, resigned. We thank Leo for his dedicated work on behalf of the railroad. It was always a pleasure to meet him and Judy at the various NCRA meetings.
Passenger trains for Humboldt County?
While Marin and Sonoma are locked in the fight for the survival of SMART, Humboldt County has taken steps investigating the possibilities of passenger rail on the north end. The following presentation for the NCRA meeting on the 19th in Arcata was prepared by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Support Coalition and submitted by president Kaye Strickland and board members Pete Orringer, Marcus Brown and Larry Henderson:
Subject: Organizing to support the restoration of the Humboldt Short Rail.
Request: To be recognized by the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) as the official, associate organization delegated the authority and responsibility to work with the NCRA Board and Staff to advance the restoration of the Humboldt Short Rail to completion, in a manner that does not endanger the restoration of the remainder of the North Coast Railroad.
Objective: Through working with a local non-profit organization, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Support Coalition (NPRSC) wants to provide support to the NCRA in restoring the Humboldt Short Rail portion of the North Coast Railroad as part of Humboldt County’s transportation infrastructure.
Concern: The current funds and efforts of the NCRA are prioritized first on the restoration and opening of the North Coast Railroad’s "South" portion between Willits and Lombard, and second on the restoration and opening of the Railroad’s "Middle" portion between Willits and South Fork, through the Eel River Canyon. The restoration and opening of the Railroad’s "North" portion – the Humboldt Short Rail, from South Fork northward – has not been a priority for the Authority at this time. Consequently, the Humboldt Short Rail continues to deteriorate and become more costly to restore. Return of rail service to Humboldt County is important to help strengthen and diversify the economy and create jobs in our region. The Authority needs additional resources in order to give the Humboldt Short Rail the attention required to make sure rail service is returned to Humboldt County. Appropriate resources are available in Humboldt County. Local citizens, local governments, and local civic organizations cannot continue to delay in stepping up to help secure and provide the additional resources needed by the Authority to restore the Humboldt Short Rail and, in turn, return rail service to our region. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad Support Coalition is in the appropriate organization to lead and coordinate this local effort.
The presentation was well received by the NCRA Board. This in no way will take the coalition’s efforts away from the knowledge that the whole railroad is needed ASAP, and re-built to accommodate Freight All the way.
A separate issue was presented by Arcata Manager Dan Hauser and Mayor Orneles for support for rail service to and through Arcata.
The coalition can be reached at (707)443-6105 or by E-Mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
The Eureka Reporter followed up on the NCRA meeting with this story:
by Christine Bensen
Some day, it may be possible to commute between Arcata and Rio Dell by train.
At its Wednesday meeting, the North Coast Railroad Authority board of directors directed Chairman John Woolley and Vice Chairman Charles Ollivier to work with staff to see if and when this could happen.
Arcata City Councilman Dave Meserve said he brought the idea of a commuter train to the Arcata City Council because he thinks a train would be beneficial for commuters and tourists. Arcata Mayor Robert Ornelas said he thinks people would come to the area just to see a train in Arcata let alone ride on one. He said he thinks it could cost $4 million to $5 million, which he said is much less than Caltrans pays for a variety of projects, such as interchanges.
“The City Council of the city of Arcata voted unanimously to request that you support passenger rail services on your tracks between the cities of Rio Dell and Arcata,” Ornelas said in a letter written to the NCRA board members on April 7. “A commuter rail system could be easily developed to serve those Humboldt County communities along the right-of-way as well as … College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University. The rail could be restored and equipment purchased for far less than the cost of a single Caltrans interchange.”
The letter goes on to “suggest” that the NCRA fund a feasibility study for passenger rail service between the cities of Rio Dell and Arcata. The railroad track does not pass through Rio Dell, but it does go through Scotia.
In other action, the board of directors will negotiate a long-term lease agreement with the Eureka Redevelopment Agency for a proposed depot and transit center to be located at First and A streets. Once a lease is secured, the Redevelopment Agency will be able to access a $250,000 grant earmarked for it by Caltrans.
“Once we negotiate a lease, then we’ll sit down and talk about how we want to spend the money,” said Marie Liscom, economic development coordinator for the agency. She said the money could be spent on a variety of things, including an environmental review, site plan design or traffic study.
A few years ago when the project was first looked into, Liscom said, a rendering of the proposed depot was created to look like the historic depot that was once on the site. The proposed transit center would include a building where people could wait for regional and city buses as well as cabs. It may also house some offices for transit-related agencies, she said.
“It was envisioned to serve all current modes of transportation,” Liscom said. “It would be nice to have something where buses could pull off the street.” It could be at least six months before the environmental study or other studies will be started, she said.
Can Mendocino sit idle and watch the counties to the south and now Humboldt to the north trying actively to get passenger trains back on the NWP?
I don’t know how difficult and efficient it would be to operate regular trains from Willits to Ukiah. Although the trip offers splendid views when crossing the ridge high above Highway 101, this section of the line might be better suited for slower excursion trains. But on the straight and fairly level part of the tracks from Ukiah south it should be easy to run trains on a regular basis, especially after the rehab work from Willits south has been completed. It would be ideal to run trains from Ukiah to Cloverdale where the trains could connect with the SMART trains. (If SMART ever gets off the ground?)
Now that the initiative for sales tax increase benefiting commuter trains in Marin and Sonoma has been delayed until 2006 (See Lionel Gambill’s story on page 3), perhaps one should consider instead a four-county initiative at that time that would raise sales taxes to establish passenger service for the whole region?
Food for creative rail-thoughts??
Keep the idea in mind; we have two years to kick it around.