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North Bay freight trains one step closer

By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Bay cargo trains may be closer to returning to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad now that a major obstacle has been removed.

U.S. transportation regulators have ruled that the North Coast Railroad Authority doesn’t need commuter rail’s okay to reopen the freight line.

That means the Federal Railroad Administration can now inspect repairs on a 62-mile stretch of track between Napa County and Windsor. “It’s a significant step,” NCRA director Mitch Stogner said Monday.

But NCRA still needs a joint operating agreement with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, the commuter rail agency that owns the tracks.

NCRA hopes to begin freight service on the segment early next year, Stogner said, which will provide a lower-cost alternative for shippers and take truck traffic off Highway 101.

Federal regulators closed the route in 2001 after storm damage made it unsafe for trains. NCRA is spending $68 million to fix the southern end of the railroad. Last month it said repairs were complete and ready to inspect.

Tracks, bridges, signals and crossings must pass inspection before federal officials lift their embargo.

But the plan hit a snag when a Federal Railroad Administration official ruled SMART must join NCRA’s petition to reopen the line.

SMART directors said last month they wouldn’t support the request until the two agencies agree on joint operating rules. SMART plans to start running commuter trains over a portion of the railroad in 2014.

NCRA appealed the federal ruling, and the railroad administration reversed its position last week. In a letter Friday, the federal agency said SMART’s support isn’t needed for the freight closure to be lifted.

But NCRA still must resolve any disputes with SMART before freight trains can operate, the agency said.

Negotiations over the track-sharing agreement are snarled on various issues.

SMART officials haven’t received last week’s letter and aren’t prepared to comment, spokesman Chris Coursey said Monday.

Negotiations over the track-sharing agreement are snarled on various issues, but Stogner said NCRA and SMART “have made significant headway” on the agreement since last month.

NCRA also must adopt an environmental study of the freight service and tweak a lawsuit settlement with Novato, which sued over the trains in 2007, he said.





25 Responses to “North Bay freight trains one step closer”

  1. D. J. Russell says:

    This whole thing is absolutely preposterous! Who in their right mind can see a railroad built over the decrepid ruins of the old NWP. Dreamers, Foamers, and Wannabees only allowed here! You might as well flush the money down the toilet…..All in all,…..I hope that they succeed……That’s my take…….

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  2. BigDogatlPlay says:

    Steve Klausner wrote:

    It’s not about shipping wine. 2006. Hemphill, NCRA’s veteran Board Chairman said that “we now have a credible operator and the potential to ship three new commodities on this line: in-bound containers from Humboldt Bay, rock from the Island Mountain Quarry North of Willits, and solid waste (garbage) from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties.”

    ———-

    Chairman Hemphill’s rosy proclamation rests on two exceptionally tenuous maybes…

    1) Hauling containers from the yet to be constructed Humboldt container port relies on the road being re-opened through the Eel River Canyon. And if readers think SMART is expensive, wait until they see a bill for that… let alone ever getting it out of the courts from environmentalist litigation.

    2) Hauling gravel from Iron Mountain assumes NCRA can actually clear all the legal hurdles that would be required for that operation. Not exactly a sure thing given the location and the litany of environmentalist naybobs already aligning against it.

    That leaves trash hauling, which by itself is not going to cover operating expenses. So it would seem to me that the NCRA board, in their well earned role of “gang who can’t shoot straight” and their chosen operator (a former NCRA general manager, go figure) are going to have to get creative, get to expanding stubs into rail dependent businesses, and get to marketing if they hold any hope of profitability.

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  3. Guard Dog says:

    I sense alot of noise in our future!

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  4. bill says:

    there is something foul in marinmark

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  5. John G says:

    Has anyone not been to Europe? The idea of taxpayer funded trains in a Eurorail sense sound romantic. The main reason why all of those poor bastards in Europe take the public trains is because their gas costs $7.00 a gallon so it is economically inefficient to drive a car (not to mention their lack of infrastructure due to space and the various corruption faced by liberal governments). We are lucky that most of us can afford to drive cars to commute with out having to deal with all of the ghetto crap, crime, etc. that go along with trains and train stations. The point I would like to make is that no one will use the SMART train. The name is actually quite contrary to that. Isn’t using tax dollars to create something that there is no real market for a proven strategy to create failure through out history?

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  6. NOTUTOO says:

    @ Steve Klausner…The problem Steve is that the lines have not been repaired and the funding for those repairs have not been identified. And we’re talking some major repairs, specifically through the Eel River Canyon. I would assume another 3 to 7 years.

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  7. Lyn Cramer says:

    @Will

    //In fact, ALL forms of transportation require a public subsidy. This is especially true for highways.//

    Incorrect. Roads are largely paid for by the tax on gasoline, i.e., the user pays. Bonds floated for highway improvements are paid of with gas tax money. The federal highway program roughly equals federal gas taxes.

    But with both state and federal gas tax money, some of it is siphoned off for bicycle lanes, mass transit subsidies and even, yes, parks.

    Automobile use is the only class of transportation in the U.S. in which the users pay for the basic infrastructure and are required to subsidize others methods of transit as well.

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  8. Steve Klausner says:

    Enough taxpayer’s subsidies. It is time for NCRA to start making some money. Cash now! Napa Wine Train boards at the Marin Civic Center. All riders pay full fair.

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  9. Grey Whitmore says:

    A Kay, arguments riddled with logical fallacies that simply take too much time to organize and argue with.

    Typical: “you must be a man” “unless your Christine Culver …”

    You have yet to find a fact you can’t ignore, nor an extrapolation to the nth degree that your unwilling to make to look good & get your point across.

    You add little to public discourse. Yes, I tried to reread you twaddle but really, there is nothing to refute there, as I never raid any of the statements you made.

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  10. Will says:

    Reasons to support rail

    Some complain that freight and commuter rail will not pay for themselves. In fact, ALL forms of transportation require a public subsidy. This is especially true for highways. Adding a lane to Highway 101 in Sonoma County will cost over a billion dollars and will generate not one dollar of revenue stream to repay the public.

    Some say the initial steps to restore rail transportation will not serve commuters to San Francisco. True, but most Sonoma County commuters who work in Novato or the Civic Center will be very well served. This is a good first step in restoring commuter rail. Drive from Novato to the Civic Center shortly before 9 am on a weekday to see the advantages of the rail alternative.

    Buses are not a satisfactory alternative. They are trapped in the same traffic jam. Paving the SMART right of way for buses would be far more expensive than upgrading the rails, Buses would also require more drivers than a train, and thus are more expensive to operate.

    We frequently read about fatal or injury crashes on Highway 101. Rail passengers are far safer than vehicle passengers.

    Trains use less fuel per passenger and emit less air pollution than buses, and far less than motor vehicles.

    And the list goes on. The first steps planned by NCRA for freight and SMART for passenger rail are only a start, but they take us in a much needed direction. And yes, motor vehicles are here to stay. We need all modes of transportation.

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  11. Steve Klausner says:

    It’s not about shipping wine. 2006. Hemphill, NCRA’s veteran Board Chairman said that “we now have a credible operator and the potential to ship three new commodities on this line: in-bound containers from Humboldt Bay, rock from the Island Mountain Quarry North of Willits, and solid waste (garbage) from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties.”

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  12. Phil Maher says:

    Grey,

    So what’s the more likely scenario for Marin, not riding the train because it goes nowhere, or Cotati? Six of one, half dozen of the other.

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  13. Kay Tokerud says:

    @Grey Whitmore You must be a man to show absolute disregard for a women’s personal safety. Unless you’re Chris Culver or Veronica Jacobi I can bet you drive a car. I’m a 58 year old woman and I have been on every form of public transportation there is. The risk of assault or robbery while waiting on a platform or busstop can be very high. Most assault victims are women. Obviously that’s not high on your list of concerns.

    The bike proponents need to get off their superiority trip and stop bashing people who drive cars. Future cars will be cleaner and more energy efficient, what’s wrong with that?

    Many people use their cars and trucks for their jobs. What are they supposed to do? Maybe people who are opposed to cars should just walk, it’s almost as fast, doesn’t require expensive changes to roadways and almost everyone can do it. Sidewalks are already there. Smartgrowth proponents like yourself are so radical about bicycles that you want us to rip up our infrastructure in order to rebuild our cities into a fantasy bikeland.

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  14. Lyn Cramer says:

    Presumably then, the core cities around which most passenger traffic will focus are Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and San Rafael, with populations of 160,000, 60,000, and 55,00.

    Excluding countries in which gasoline is $7-$8/gallon, do any successful passenger train lines operate on population corridors similar to this line’s?

    I appreciate that California is a rich land, but before spending $700 million it would help to know similarly-size areas where this sort of thing works well.

    I also appreciate that any questioning of the Smart Train idea is retrograde, anti-progress, and evidence one suffers from low IQ. Indulge my ignorance, please.

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  15. Grey Whitmore says:

    @Kay Tokerud

    Clearly you have little understanding of how public transit systems work.

    60% of trips on most transit systems are geared towards the center of the system. The same is true about SMART.

    No one images that a passenger will get on in Cloverdale, ride it to Larkspur and take a ferry to a San Francisco job.

    The more likely scenario is a Cloverdale resident taking it to a Santa Rosa job, or a Cotati resident taking it into Marin County.

    As for the safety of women, that is one of Kay’s typical ploys. The same could be true of campus parking lots, mall parking lots, downtowns, medical buildings, rural wineries, etc., etc. It’s just a manipulative statement to bang on a topic.

    The rest is pretty much the same. Logical fallacies appears to be fact or substantial opinion.

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  16. BigDogatPlay says:

    505 Alive wrote…

    BigDogatlPlay suggests that NCRA has advanced money to the freight operator. I believe the actual situation is reversed; the freight operator has advanced money to the NCRA to help enable its basic functions. The freight operator will recover this money when they start hauling freight.

    ———–

    I’ll stand somewhat corrected. Read the wrong column of the warrant report attached to the September board meeting. They list NWP as credits, with interest.

    Which raises another question… NCRA, a government agency, has been loaned money at interest by a private corporation / group of investors. And that private corporation is not only going to, presumably, make it back on freight revenue as suggested by 505Alive, they are going to be repaid, with accrued interest by the government agency.

    Nice work when you can get it.

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  17. Kay Tokerud says:

    It will take more than 3 hours to get to San Francisco from Santa Rosa using public transportation when the train is finally running. A round trip will require double that. Does anyone really have that much time to waste? Sightseers maybe. But anyone who is working cannot possibly justify adding all those hours onto their commute.

    And what about personal safety? If you’re a woman, a child, or elderly, public transportation is risky compared with driving a car. No one is talking about this major disadvantage to using public transportation.

    Car drivers are able to make purchases and lock them safely away in their car. On a bus or train people are limited to what they can carry. How many trips would it take to carry the amount that could be carried in a private vehicle?

    The people that think that replacing cars with trains and bikes do not seem to take into account any of these issues. Trains and bikes will never replace cars unless the government forces us out of our vehicles. The time efficiency, safety and cargo capacity of cars cannot be matched by alternative methods. If a trip takes hours longer than driving, there’s a cost to those people and society for lost productivity. Time is money to those of us who work for a living.

    Until alternative transportation addresses some of these obvious issues, most people will not be interested in using it.

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  18. 505Alive says:

    BigDogatlPlay suggests that NCRA has advanced money to the freight operator. I believe the actual situation is reversed; the freight operator has advanced money to the NCRA to help enable its basic functions. The freight operator will recover this money when they start hauling freight.

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  19. Clive says:

    This is a step forward, though NCRA still needs to stop stalling and agree to a reasonable agreement with SMART. Further brinksmanship is not going to bring us progress.

    In response to some of the other comments, I’d like to see the data claiming that moving freight to rail is most effective thing we can do to reduce transportation C02. I thought it was increasing fuel efficiency requirements for passenger cars.

    As far as noise, it would certainly be a good sign for our economy and the future if SMART and NCRA trains were constantly rolling. I suspect the impacts will be less than people fear.

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  20. Bob says:

    Does this mean we will finally be able to ship wine from Windsor to Napa? That Windsor freight yard is going to be busy. All of this commercial activity for a measly $68 million in repairs to old track.

    I wonder if anyone ever did a cost benefit analysis? Nope, it’s green, its golden.

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  21. BigDogatlPlay says:

    The $68 million investment is taxpayer money… you’ll never see that again. It would take decades, at least, if for no other reason than the private operator who is contracted to run the freight service will reap a substantial portion of the revenue, once the NCRA is paid back for the money they’ve advanced the operator already.

    I for one wouldn’t mind seeing containers full of good Sonoma County wine going to market on trains.

    And 69 MPH is not a realistic speed for freight on this corridor. Given the overall condition they’ll be lucky if FRA and the PUC let them do 30.

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  22. Rick says:

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m generally very in favor of rail-based transport and transportation being a very viable part of our infrastructure.
    But I am certainly curious as to just how long it will take to recover a $68 million investment in restoring the line to operational condition.

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  23. Dan Delgado says:

    Why are the SMART board of directors dragging their feet on this? Running freight trains seems to make so much common sense. What is SMART’s objection?

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  24. Lyn Cramer says:

    If before freight can move on the line a “joint operating agreement” with SMART is needed, I don’t see how much has changed. Isn’t SMART in the same position it was before, it can allow freight service or delay or block it?

    It’s important to emphasize that the single most effective thing America could do to reduce its transportation-generated CO2 would be to move as much freight traffic to railroads as possible. Add the benefit of reducing truck traffic on Hwy 101 and we see that SMART isn’t as environmentally friendly as its supporters like to think.

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  25. Robert says:

    Finally we are going to get to hear those long, long freight trains rolling by all day and all night. I can’t tell you how I have waited for this.

    But that pesty little SMART district will not allow the freight trains to stay on the tracks until their issues are resolved. The Feds say yes to freight, then maybe, then can’t you kids just get along?

    Gee, it is going to be great when SMART trains and freight trains are whistling by at 69 miles an hour, hour after hour. I am sure we will get use to it if they ever get rolling, at least that’s what I tell the neighbors.

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