Rail executive director resigns
Thursday, May 08, 2003 -
The North Coast Railroad Authority's executive director is quitting to go to work for a Wisconsin company.
Doug Christy has filed his resignation, leaving the agency's key post empty. Christy, who has only been on the job as executive director since October, was seen by many as a tenacious worker who could push along the restoration of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.
But with the suspension of $41 million in state transportation funds, the prospects of reopening the northern half of the 500-mile line in the foreseeable future are questionable at best. There is some hope that federal transportation dollars might help the railroad out of its jam, but competition for those funds is steep.
Christy has accepted a position in Wisconsin with Schneider National Inc., a truck and rail service provider and consultant.
"You get offers when you're not looking," Christy said.
The North Coast Railroad Authority has re-focused its efforts to jump-start the southern end of the line below Willits, while putting in limbo the northern reach. Part of the rationale has been the Federal Emergency Management Agency's reluctance to fund an assessment of rail restoration costs without an assurance that the project itself would be funded.
"This is not an abandonment of the north end," Christy said. "We realistically don't have the money to go north of Willits."
Christy said the lack of funds is not why he is leaving.
But rail authority director Leo Sears felt that Christy is too highly motivated and skilled to be saddled with a project that is on hold.
Sears insisted that the railroad is vital to the North Coast economy, and that the region should not give up hope. He also added that the railroad is the only unsubsidized transportation corridor in the state.
"We're doing everything we can to get these things back up and running," Sears said.
Meanwhile, the Northwestern Pacific's tracks -- especially those along the erosive Eel River Canyon -- are deteriorating by the day, undoubtedly making any future effort to reopen the line far more expensive.
Christy managed to beam one faint ray of hope when he said that with the southern section reopened, the northern end may be more eligible for funding in the future.
"Rail service is vital to the future economic well being of the North Coast," said board director and county supervisor John Woolley, "and it will happen. Just not tomorrow."