Capdiamont\’s Weblog

Dave Spreen: NCRA needs a new mandate
Saturday 22 Dec 2007, 11:07
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

There is some question to the schedule and truth of the loading of less than car load, in the southern end. As posted below. TS Comments.

Article Launched: 12/19/2007 01:30:10 AM PST

After graduating from HSU in 1976, I took a job as a warehouse/deliveryman for Rice Supply, a wholesale distributor of building materials. At that time, we placed orders with the main warehouse in San Rafael, and once a week several pallets of materials would be loaded on a truck and taken to the rail loaders for shipping on the freight train to Humboldt County.

Upon arrival, I would drive our delivery truck from our location in the old Humboldt Brewery building (roughly at the north end of where Bayshore Mall is now) up to Humboldt Loaders just off Highway 101 north of Arcata to pick up our shipment from San Rafael.

As freight rates were deregulated and labor unions were busted in the early ’80s, truck rates became more competitive and it no longer made good business sense to use the railroad. At that point, we could place an order in the morning to San Rafael, have it picked up by truck that afternoon and delivered to our doorstep the next day cheaper than the railroad could do it, and without the wear and tear on our own trucks, not to mention lost employee time.

This basic economic reality has not changed, yet the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) continues to push for a freight
rail to Humboldt Bay. The addition of a container facility on the bay connected to the rail also ignores basic economic reality. It does not make sense to pay the extra freight from here to the San Francisco Bay area, plus the two days closer to Asian ports will be lost in the two days it is on the train from here to the main line.

Instead of looking at the ports of Gray’s Harbor or Prince Rupert as economic models for Humboldt Bay, we should perhaps be looking at the sustainable economic development that places like Port Townsend have accomplished without freight rail or container port, which I hope to make the subject of a future My Word.

The Times-Standard reprinted a Marin Independent Journal article, “Novato sues railroad over freight service,” on Oct. 4, but Mitch Stogner, executive director of the NCRA, dodged the real issues in his Oct. 12 opinion in the Novato Advance titled “Freight train operator calls Novato’s lawsuit ‘NIMBYism.’”

Statements like “a freight train moves a ton of goods 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel and uses 75 percent less diesel fuel than trucks” may make nice sound bites, but the fact is, the fuel efficiency and pollutant emissions in any comparison of rail versus truck must be calculated for the specific route and cargo being moved.

A comparison model developed at the Queensland University in 2002 found an analysis of rail energy consumption supports the inclusion of parameters related to speed, travel distance, number of stops, grade, curvature, length of the train and mass. Calculations for pickup, line haul and delivery legs must also be factored in to depict the overall modal freight energy usage.

The Novato lawsuit would have no merit if the NCRA had just played it straight and been upfront with everyone instead of conducting back-room politics, awarding no-bid contracts, and generally excluding public participation as much as possible. The NCRA brought this lawsuit on themselves and it may not be the last. Breaking the project into small segments to avoid comprehensive environmental and economic reports is deceitful.

The governor’s veto of the last two NCRA appropriations bills should have sent Mr. Stogner a clear message that the NCRA needs to change the way it does business or perhaps be derailed altogether.

Meanwhile, obtainable economic development, like rail-banking the Arcata-Eureka section of the rail for trail use, is being stymied by the NCRA’s adherence to the highly improbably and heavily subsidized freight train scheme.

In the past, the Board of Supervisors appointed Humboldt County’s two representatives on the North Coast Railroad Authority’s Board of Directors as a routine consent item.

In light of the results of the recent Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District election, isn’t it time our supervisors adopt a more formal public process for choosing our representatives for the NCRA Board of Directors? Representation more attuned to local constituents could push for adoption of a new legislative mandate for the NCRA that would be more supportive of the benefits of the rail-banking plan now, not two or five or 10 years from now.

In addition, a new mandate could support more local control for the best use of the rail for each of the counties the NCRA serves.

Dave Spreen is president of Dave Spreen Enterprises Inc., which offers consulting and media services to the floor-covering industry. He can be reached by e-mail at He resides in Kneeland.

Comment questioning Dave, by Open Joint

After reading Mr.Spreen’s article I object on two issues . Mr. Spreen begins by stating he was a warehouse/ deliveryman for Rice supply in 1976 thereby giving the impression he was familiar with railroad operations on the NWP and speaks with some kind of authority. When in 1976 did the NWP offer less than freight car loadings out of San Rafael? A couple of pallets were shipped out of SAN RAFAEL by rail each week . This did not happen . Less than carloads were stopped with the last passenger train out of San Rafael in 1958.Also Mr Spreen states that the two days port shipping advantage is lost by the two days rail transit time between Eureka and the UP interchange at Fairfield. In 1975 number 75 the timetable freight left Eureka and arrived in Schellville twelve hours later.Add in two hours Schellville to Faifield and rail is 14 hours transit time not 48. Most rational people would agree that rail service is years away from Eureka. Why not work with the local authorities and help create a bike path AND preserve the railroad branchline from Eureka to Samoa. Rail historians help here . Were is an example of a bike path converted back to a working railroad?

I posted six examples of paths converted back in to working railroads.


1 Comment

Port Townsend’s sustainable economic development is a dream. I believe that’s why they call it the “City of Dreams”. The economic situation here is not one after which you should pattern yourselves. If it weren’t for the tourist trade this town would dry up. Recently the city council imposed a 20% tax on city utilities such as water, sewage, drainage and trash disposal. If that wasn’t bad enpugh, four of seven of the councilors voted to rescind an ordinance which required an advisory vote of the citizenry prior to increasing the local property tax above 1% annually. This ordinance was passed by 70% of the voters. Then they raised the property tax above the 1% which was authorized by the legislature. They did this during a short window, which was available due to a court decision which overturned a statewide referendum vote of the people to restrict property tax increases to 1% per year and the time it took the state legislature to vote to validate the law. Now that’s what a shining example you’ve selected as a model for your city.I hope that you don’t hold Democracy dear.

Whenever city funds fail to meet all the pet projects aren’t available the four city councilors find an additional tax to impose. They are presently considering a tax on each vehicle in the city. Now they have recently built an addition to city hall, a new firestation, bicyle lanes and propose to build a new police station. The city pays the maintenance costs for a swimming pool which belongs to the school district. The city owns a golf course which is provided with free water for the grass. This golf course earns $15K annually for the city and is tax exempt as is all city owned property. What a white elephant!

A big problem here is that many local dollars are spent in Kitsap and Clallam counties. Thus what should be local sales tax dollars go to adjacent counties and cities. The city council has passed a law restricting the size, menus and uniforms of any chain which wishes to do business within the city limits. Duh, I wonder why people take their dollars out of town.

I suggest that you look elsewhere for a sustainable economic model. Find a city where young families can afford to live, that doesn’t depend on grants and increased taxes to support itself.

Don’t believe the speech hype and the backpatting at various functions. Do some research beyond the city officials and the economic development council. Come talk to the local residents.

Comment by Martin Vetere

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