WatchSonoma Watch

Freight trains could return to Santa Rosa next month


After being derailed for 12 years, freight trains could begin rumbling through Santa Rosa by next month, and city officials want to make sure residents are ready.

The long lapse in service means many people aren’t used to locomotives lumbering along the tracks, and officials don’t want any surprises.

“It’s safe to say most of us aren’t aware of trains or as familiar with trains as we should be, so that’s one of our concerns,” Tony Gossner, division chief for the Santa Rosa Fire Department, told the City Council on Tuesday.

There hasn’t been freight service on the former Northwestern Pacific Railroad since 1998, when federal regulators shut the lines. The North Coast Railroad Authority has spent $68 million in state and federal funds repairing 62 miles of track between Windsor and Napa. If they get the OK from federal inspectors, trains could return by mid-April, said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Railroad Authority.

In the first year, trains of 15 to 20 cars are expected to run three round-trips a week. They are expected to carry grain, aggregate, timber or other bulk material, said John Williams, president of Northwestern Pacific Co., the company ready to run freight service on the line. Trains will run at about 25 mph, he said. As business grows, trains could grow to up to 60 cars in length, Williams said.

Various city departments are poised to reach out to the community to make sure that homeless people, pedestrians and motorists are aware the trains are returning and to take precautions.

“One of the safety concerns that we all share is that because trains haven’t been around for a while, there are a lot of people that use train tracks as a right of way,” Gossner said.

Crossings are a key concern. There are 11 places in the city where roads cross the tracks. Motorists will have to get used to waiting between one minute and three minutes for trains to pass, Williams said.

Overall, the restoration of service could provide an economic boost for the city, said Mayor Ernesto Olivares.

“I can’t help but think that this is going to be overall a good economic thing for our community as far as moving goods and services,” he said.

There are two industrial areas of the city — one on Coffey Lane and one on Dutton Avenue — where spur lines exist, said Frank Kasimov, program specialist in the city’s economic development department.

These locations could allow trains to pull off the main tracks to be efficiently loaded or unloaded.

In addition, there is the potential for a “transload” spur north of the city that might allow other businesses in the city to load cargo on and off trains, he said.

The wine industry currently ships thousands of cases of wine by truck to American Canyon, where it is transferred to rail cars, said Doug Bosco, a Santa Rosa attorney and former congressman who was responsible for securing the federal funding that helped repair the line.

Standard Structures in Windsor is another type of company that could benefit. It has the ability to construct 120-foot high towers for electrical transmission lines. Those structures are too large to be moved on trucks, but can be moved by rail, Bosco said.

“It’ll really open up that sort of opportunity for local people,” said Bosco said.

6 Responses to “Freight trains could return to Santa Rosa next month”

  1. zdeneck says:

    Trains rumbling through Santa Rosa from where? The end of the line is in Windsor and unless there are some large shippers in that area, and marshalling yards, the only thing that is going to be heard is a peep…peep…clickty clack…and that is that………you’ve gotta build the bassinet before you have the baby! Where is the traffic,…where is the business,…will it just somehow magically appear? Do these railroad people really have a plan, or are they some of the “if we build it,…they will come folks?” We will find out in short order…..60 car trains ???? Three round trips a week ???? You’ve got to be kidding………

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I remember the trains coming through before when I lived downtown, way back when, I used to enjoy hearing the trains go through at night. Even after I moved to another area of Santa Rosa, I could still hear the whistle in the summer when my window was open.

    I love the idea of trains. In Europe and other countries they have state of the art transport trains and people use the trains to get around routinely even for vacations.

    This country had way too much oil available so we decided that cars and trucks were the cheaper way to go. Well not anymore.

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  3. Amelia says:

    Ms. Tokerud,

    I would like to point out to you that for those of us who DO live in apartment complexes by the train tracks, your comment about “low-income renters” is not appreciated. I know for a fact that my rent is much lower (already) then most other places in Santa Rosa, and I don’t see that as a problem. And since when did, “expensive condos” equal a quality neighborhood?

    I love my “low income” apartment complex next to the train tracks, and I will continue to love it after the train starts to run (the sound at night used to lull me to sleep as a child growing up in an inner-city).

    For the future ma’am, please don’t confuse “low income renters” with “undesirables.”

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  4. Grey Whitmore says:

    Why is one of the posters so worried about this?

    They don’t live near the developments. In fact, I think they live East of 101.

    Why don’t you let those of us on the West side of 101 worry about something for once.

    Now toddle along. The rest of use are worried about serious things.

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  5. Kay Tokerud says:

    High-density housing clustered around train tracks. It’s time to find out what that’s like. Freight trains make good economic sense but having lots of people living right next to the tracks is not sensible. The noise, air pollution and dangerous grade crossings will all make those apts./condos less than attractive.

    Instead of expensive condos you will end up with low income renters. When they sold us the passenger train, almost nothing was said about the freight aspect. Now, that is coming first. Pretty soon, garbage will be shipped out on those trains and god only knows what else. Where is our people train?

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  6. Hello People! says:

    “The North Coast Railroad Authority has spent $68 million in state and federal funds repairing 62 miles of track between Windsor and Napa”? When S.M.A.R.T Spent 10 of millions of dollars from Windsor to Novato on the same track!

    ?Hello People?

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