The Times-Standard Wednesday, April 17, 2002 \
Want Bill to Support Rail Line
By James Tressler
-- Humboldt County supervisors on Tuesday asked alarmed railroad advocates to
back off outright opposition to a state Assembly bill the advocates say could
permanently put the North Coast out of the railroad business.
board unanimously voted not to oppose the bill, as the North Coast Railroad
Authority asked it to do. Instead the board called on the authority to
brainstorm ways the bill could be amended to protect the North Coast's long-term
rail interests. Supervisors said that drafting amendments may prove the more
effective strategy -- especially since the bill has already been introduced.
"I'd hate for us to be stomping our feet, saying no, and the legislation
moves on without us adding amendments," Chairwoman Bonnie Neely said.
Bill 2224, introduced in February by North Bay Assemblyman Joe Nation, would
dissolve the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Commission and Northwestern Pacific
Railroad Authority. It would create a new entity, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail
Transit District. The district would eventually provide passenger train service
between Cloverdale and San Rafael, along the Northwestern Pacific rail corridor
that runs along U.S. Highway 101. The bill was heard on Monday in the Assembly
bill also directs the district to negotiate "in good faith" a new
operating agreement with the North Coast Railroad Authority. But director Leo
Sears said he thinks the bill could be a sign that passenger rail on the
southern end is going to push out any hopes for freight on the line. Sears said
the authority never consulted when the bill was drafted and the existing bill
doesn't sufficiently protect North Coast rail interests. The authority, which
owns the portion of the line north of Healdsburg, has been trying to restore the
line ever since El Niņo storms washed out part of it four winters ago.
have dismissed the railroad restoration as a hopeless money pit. But railroad
advocates say freight rail holds the key to the Humboldt County's economic
future. With urban ports focusing their business on the more lucrative
containerized shipping, Humboldt Bay could theoretically become a booming bulk
port. These future plans, however, must compete with the present needs in the
north San Francisco Bay area. Traffic problems and economic growth in Marin and
Sonoma counties the past decade has spurred the need for light passenger rail.
That project is being worked on by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit
Commission, which owns the portion of line south of Healdsburg.
supervisors said they shared the authorities' concerns, but said outright
opposition may only spark opposition between the two competing ends of the line.
said one of Nation's representatives has also agreed to "broker" a
meeting between Nation and North Coast representatives sometime in the near
future. Meanwhile, the board adjourned its meeting until later this week, so it
can hear some of the amendments proposed by the authority.