WatchSonoma Watch

Freight trains to return to North Bay on Wednesday


Freight trains could roll on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties on Wednesday after the Novato City Council late Tuesday agreed to revise a legal settlement that sets guidelines for trains running through the city.

Two council members voted against the proposed changes in the settlement, saying they were worried about the impacts of train traffic.

“My first concern is for safety,” said City Councilwoman Carole Dillon-Knutson. She also asked about noise and emissions.

The railroad should meet stricter timelines for noise mitigation, said Councilwoman Pat Eklund.

City staff, however, said the changes sought by the North Coast Railroad Authority were a good compromise. The settlement passed on a 3-2 vote.

Freight trains will return to the North Bay on Wednesday, said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the NCRA. The agency has been conducting test runs on the tracks in recent weeks.

NCRA has leased the rail line to a private operator, NWP Co., which plans to start service with three round trips per week and trains up to 15 cars long.

Trains would mostly haul feed and grain, wine, lumber and aggregates.

Federal transportation regulators halted freight trains on the Northwestern Pacific in 2001 when the line was badly damaged by winter storms.

Over the past four years, the railroad authority spent $68 million in tax money to reopen a 62-mile stretch between Napa County and Windsor.

Novato sued NCRA in 2007, charging it didn’t consider environmental impacts of cargo trains.

In 2008, a Marin County judge approved a settlement that required the rail authority to pay for “quiet zones” at seven public rail crossings in the city.

The settlement also ordered the authority to weld the tracks for noise reduction in a 19-mile stretch around Novato and use a low-emissions locomotive.

In addition, the authority agreed to pay Novato’s legal costs and $100,000 for noise mitigation. The various improvements cost more than $1.3 million.

The authority asked Novato last year to change several terms of the settlement, including the requirement for welded rails.

It would be a waste of public funds for the authority to weld the existing rails, it said, because Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit is planning to install new welded rails for its commuter train service starting in 2014.

The authority also said SMART has agreed to pay for quiet zone improvements with federal transportation grants.

The rail authority asked for delays in construction of some improvements and promised to operate trains at low speeds in the Novato area until they are done.

Earlier this year, Novato’s staff tentatively agreed to most of the changes. But Novato said the authority would still be responsible for the improvements if they aren’t completed on time.

14 Responses to “Freight trains to return to North Bay on Wednesday”

  1. Grey Whitmore says:

    Mr. Parker, your original numbers do balance but of course we both know you are using skewed data.

    Your amortizing the numbers out over 10 years. You provide no basis for this data point. Why not 20 years? Or 30 years?

    You also fail to account for the effects of inflation on income over the term.

    Your scheme also fails to account for cost saving on road repair by removal of trucks from 101.

    Your scheme again fails to account for the cost benefits of save time and fuel costs

    But you also fail to account for any bond cost of the construction.

    So while your numbers have an air of authority, they are but simplistic treatment of the economics of a complex project such as this.

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  2. Grey Whitmore says:

    Once again Measured Opinion speaks without knowing the facts.

    The freight is not simply being moved around Sonoma and Napa counties.

    In fact, on this first train today was a load of lumber from Canada going to a Windsor business that will then ship its finished product all across the Western United States by rail.

    A final thought. Would you other comment writes please stop making up facts to support your agendas. It really makes those of use who pay attention really annoyed.

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  3. Lee Parker says:

    Mockingbird and Just Me,

    We all love trains. I have visited them in museums across the country.

    We all love teacher too. At an annual salary of $68,000 each, we could hire 200 of more of them for five years.

    California and the nation are broke. We just can’t go on spending money on projects that just make us feel good and provide jobs for dreamers.


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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Just Me-I do agree with you. But you forgot Walnuts. And those prunes were like candy when you pick them right off the tree. Had to fight the yellow jackets because they loved them too.

    The truck farmers are missing as well.

    Our agricultural roots are not the wine industry. They’re big corporations.

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  5. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ Lee Parker

    Your numbers assume zero growth in cars hauled. While I don’t disagree that this has been a large initial outlay, which could have been far, far less if the NCRA board was not as institutionally incompetent at it has been over the past couple of decades, there is strong potential for growth.

    The operator is staffed with seasoned railroaders. Presumably they know how to sell and expand service. If they don’t, then they’ll fail and the rail line will be all SMART all the time.

    But if they succeed in growing the business, and by growing that business it reduces the number of truck trips and freight costs to move the goods and commodities, then it becomes a win.

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  6. Lee Parker says:

    Thanks Grey for trying to set me straight on cost benefit ratios.

    “Environmental benefits” Love to see your math to justify $45,000 per 15 car train. Seriously.

    Let’s see, if a rail car holds the same as three trucks, that would take a maximum of 90 trucks off the road per week, or say 13 per day. Oh, I’m feeling much better already.

    What freight?, I ask. The transportation authority did not conduct a market study. I’ll bet you $100 that the freight service will average less than 15 cars per week, over the next 12 months.

    Grey, I would love nothing more than to see a viable and successful rail service. But it’s a total pipe dream for our region. I actually studied several US and European models in college, for my minor in urban studies.

    Our state is broke and there are far more important things to spend limited (yes limited) funds on…like schools.


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  7. Just Me says:

    YAY! Bring on the trains! Bring back the history, the nostalgia, the fun of watching trains go by! Perhaps next we can bring back the apple, pear, and prune orchards and get rid of some of these grapes!

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  8. A Measured Opinion says:

    Is it really worth $68 million and much more to have feed, grain and wine hauled around Napa and Windsor? These dreamers that believe in this have no understanding of transporation economics. But the believes do think that the taxpayers should pay for a little freight train to run up and down Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.

    If this is such a great idea, why didn’t the privately owned train companies foot the bill for this? They know something the people behind this don’t know. They can’t make a profit doing it without the public monies paying the freight.

    Public money has no business in the freight business. If it doesn’t make sense to haul something and make a profit, it shouldn’t be done at public expense.

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  9. Grey Whitmore says:

    Poor Lee Parker; he simply doesn’t understand complex economics.

    What his accounting does not take into account is environmental cost of all the trucks the train will replace.

    It also does not take into account the cost of delays on 101 due to trucks, which will now be replaced.

    He does not also account for POTENTIAL business growth now that rain service in operating again.

    Shall I go on Mr. Parker?

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  10. Steve Klausner says:

    What were actual start up costs? I think it cost something like $800 million to buy the line. Then Congress kicked in about $500 million for repairs. I’m sure the state ponied up something. Be nice if someone could put a total price tag on this operation.

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  11. Lee Parker says:

    Lets see here:
    3 trips per week
    150 trips per year
    Improvement Costs: $68,000,000+++
    Over ten years, that a start-up cost of $45,000 per trip, plus ongoing maintenance. Or, $3,000 per rail car per trip, assuming full trains of 15 cars each (fat chance on that assumption).

    Oh, but it feel good, while we are going broke.

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  12. Wendy L. Togstad says:

    As a former Locomotive Engineer for California Northern Railroad, I am thrilled to hear rail service will be making a comeback. One railcar is capable of transportating quite a bit more cargo than a truck and trailer and one locomotive can pull multiple cars therefore reducing traffic congestion by ten trucks per one locomotive. Seems to me one locomotive would have less of an impact on the environment than ten semi trucks.

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  13. Dave Madigan says:

    @ o Representation:

    A 15 car train 3 times a week is nothing to worry about. Try living in Lodi! 100 car trains go past every few minutes, all day long.

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  14. 0 Representation says:

    I don’t suppose there is any kind of schedule so that getting stuck could be avoided? It’s probably wishful thinking..

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