Capdiamont\’s Weblog

NA: Novato lawsuit could end rail hopes for everybody
Friday 4 Jan 2008, 06:27
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

By LIONEL GAMBILLNovato’s scattershot lawsuit against North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) takes us back to the dark days when Marin and Sonoma counties were at each other’s throat instead of each other’s side.

A close look at Novato’s arguments shows their objective is nothing less than to prevent NCRA from repairing the rail right of way and resuming freight service.If Novato’s suit succeeds, 15 cities and three counties will be denied the right to choose whether to have rail service. Too bad, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Windsor. Sorry, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Hopland, Ukiah, Willits. Tough, Scotia, Loleta, Fortuna, Eureka, Arcata. Novato does not want you to have a railroad.

Novato City Manager Dan Keen made that clear in past statements: “I think we have serious concerns about the whole resumption of freight.” “The city sees no benefit that NCRA’s freight offers to Novato.” “The city is asking the court to invalidate NCRA’s contracts with companies involved in upgrading tracks to accommodate the trains.”

Why doesn’t Novato admit it wants to kill the railroad?

Peace between our two counties followed years of fractious and often bitter clashes over rail transportation. Friendly, harmonious cooperation began with the first SMART board meeting in 1998. Two years earlier, NCRA Board Chairman Allan Hemphill had taken a first step, inviting then-Marin County Supervisor Bob Roumigiere to ride as an honored guest on NCRA’s June 1996 Celebration Train, following public acquisition of the railroad.

In 2006, Novato rail opponents adopted a tactic of demonizing freight trains and claiming that if Measure R passed, freight trains would be running through Novato and the gates of hell would swing open.

The demonizing has accelerated, opponents pretending that rail cargo materializes out of thin air rather than being diverted from trucks. Fuel efficiency is the key to reduced fuel consumption and clean operation; freight trains can haul a ton of cargo up to 466 miles on a gallon of fuel compared to 105 miles for a big truck. A big truck is twice as loud as a freight train. Big trucks are involved in three times more fatalities per billion ton-miles than freight trains.

Blocking NCRA’s restoration of the railroad would seriously hamper SMART, dash several cities’ hopes that rail service could help their struggling economies, and stall efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in at least four counties.

It could also spell the end of the line for the popular Skunk trains between Willits and Fort Bragg, which need to share track and fixed costs with freight trains. Marin County’s filing of an amicus brief supporting Novato’s suit is puzzling, given that Marin is a voting member of NCRA.

Shouldn’t all the cities and counties affected have a say?

Lionel Gambill of Novato is past president of Friends of the Coast and a member of the OCS Environmental Coalition.

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