Capdiamont\’s Weblog

Re: FEMA 1998 report on the NCRA
Tuesday 23 Oct 2007, 10:05
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

Oh, please! Spare us that old chimera. That study was commissioned by FEMA with the avowed purpose of getting “the best answer money could buy.” FEMA was looking for a “permanent fix,” and, as it was hired to do, URS suggested a “permanent fix” for the Eel River Canyon. They proposed building a series of bridge-like structures along the entire length of the Eel River canyon which would, in their opinion, eliminate the need for annual roadway maintenance. Now there are several problems with that suggestion. However, given that a public policy decision has been made (whether rightly or wrongly is another matter), the remaining issues are mostly economic.

To justify an investment of $693 million, the annual maintenance expense avoided (expressed in constant 1998 dollars, of course) would have to average $69.3 million per year, i.e., $69.3 million per year discounted at a nominal rate of 10.0% per year over a hundred years. However, NWP’s average annual maintenance expense over the 80+ years it operated – including 1937(or 1939?), 1955, 1964 and all lesser catastrophes – is nowhere near $69.3 million per year. Given the fragmentary numbers available, an educated guess might place the long-term average (in 1998 dollars) in the range of $10 to $15 million per year. Back out amortization of disaster related costs (since NCRA can probably continue to call on FEMA for free disaster relief capital) and you are left with something in the range of $6 to $9 million per year – still an awesome $20,000 to $30,000 per mile per year – depending on level of use.

A more fundamental problem with the FEMA solution is with the study itself. URS Greiner Woodward Clyde (now known simply as the URS Division of URS Corporation) was, and is, a highly-regarded public works engineering firm that specializes in state and federal government infrastructure projects. They “plan and design bridges, highways, mass transit systems and airports.” See their website []. Even today, except for one project for CSX in Chicago, URS rail work is principally public transit related. In short: they do rapid transit; heavy rail is simply not their best-known bag. That observation was also true in 1998.

More to the point, another study, also done in 1998, by Shannon and Wilson of Seattle, the preeminent railroad geotechnical engineering firm (and a geotechnical consultant to every major railroad in North America with geologic challenges) estimated the Eel River Canyon repair and stabilization costs at about $75 million to $90 million, depending on the cost of rip rap. That program would not yield a “permanent fix” for the canyon, but, in S&W’s expert opinion, their program would slow the rate of earth movement to the point an orderly annual program could deal with the remaining winter-time issues in a cost-effective way. Catastrophe would remain problems for NCRA and FEMA.


Posted on a  railfan website, in response to bit/bitman/hotbox bob’s constant anti NWP rants.



Cap, I have asked Buettner what it is about the railroad that so offends him, and he has not answered. Do you know what it is? I understand why he was anti-LNG. Whar happened to him after that?

This country was built by people who see a problem and figure out how to solve it, not by those who are so intimidated by a problem that they cannot function.

So it costs money – but what is money? Nothing really – if the railroad brings improvement to people’s lives, to businesses. How could they even have built it back when people made pennies an hour, and very few taxes existed, but can’t do it now when the government gets more revenue from the people in the form of taxes and fees than ever before in its history?

Comment by Rose

I think the main point is getting the best value for the money.

When we talk about money a million really isn’t that much. I have been signed for over a million dollars worth of military equipment, many times. I want to say up to around 5.5 million, or so. Actually, it was probably more than that considering all the telephone switching equipment for all of Camp Casey/Hovey area, South Korea.

A new road locomotive is around 2.5 million, on up.

Comment by capdiamont

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