Capdiamont\’s Weblog

Setting the Record Straight on Railbanking | Green Wheels
Monday 19 Jan 2009, 08:11
Filed under: bicycle, Humboldt, NCRA, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, trails

Setting the Record Straight on Railbanking | Green Wheels.

Chris’s letter in the Times-Standard

In a recent piece in the Times Standard, freight rail advocate Dan Hauser claims that the process of railbanking, i.e., preserving a railroad right-of-way by putting it to another use like trail development, results in the loss of easements over private property that then have to be re-acquired. He suggests that this would make a railbanked trail between Arcata and Eureka near-impossible due to the many privately held easements in that stretch. He’s dead wrong, of course, and here is our letter that just ran in the Times Standard setting the record straight:

I was disappointed that Mr. Hauser misrepresented trail advocates in his recent My Word piece (Why a railroad in Humboldt County? Dec. 30). He states that we are “very selfish” and “want the railroad to go away.” Mr. Hauser seems out of touch with the fact that most Humboldt residents just don’t think the railroad will be rebuilt here in the foreseeable future, whether we want it or not.

Railbanking is proposed as a reasonable way to preserve the right-of-way, by using it as a trail until such time as a railroad may become feasible. But, Mr. Hauser doesn’t seem to understand how railbanking works. He says that “the NCRA would first have to formally and legally abandon the rail line” resulting in the loss of railroad easements over private property.

In actuality, railbanking precludes abandonment. A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy report on railroad acquisition explains that a railbanked corridor “is still being used for railroad purposes, legally speaking. This means that a railroad can legally transfer all forms of its ownership, including easements, to a trail group.”

Humboldt County needs pragmatic transportation planning. Considering the benefits of railbanking for preserving the railroad right-of-way and providing trails for the public, it needs to remain on the table as an option. Mr. Hauser should have researched the issue more carefully to avoid misinforming the public.

Chris Rall

Executive Director

Green Wheels


Somethings, here, Dan Houser is 100% correct that in order to railbank the right of way, NCRA has to apply to the Surface Transportation for abandonment. There is no guarantee that that the railroad has to railbank, that is optional. However since our local railroad is owned by a public agency, it is likely it will happen.

Still the issues, raised, even in comment, he avoids.

#1 The high trail usage, which is in fact higher than the one being worked on through a tunnel, between two much higher population centers in Marin County, right by the SMART tracks, IE rail with trail.

#2 What is the cost of maintenance of such a trail, and who pays for it?

#3 In order to get funding to do railbanking, there has to be no planned usage of the rail for twenty years. I don’t think so.

#4 If railbanked, what is the cost of putting in the new trail? How much time will it take to put in the new trail?



“#3 In order to get funding to do railbanking, there has to be no planned usage of the rail for twenty years.”

Where do you get this? What is your source?

Comment by Anonymous

It is from the trail’s own study, top of page 81

If the NCRA were willing to consider railbanking this corridor, it could be used for an unspecified period of time
dependant on a railroad requesting permission from the Surface Transportation Board to restart rail service. The
tracks would be removed and the trail would be constructed. However, the cost of reinstalling the tracks would fall
back on the public, since the NCRA is a public entity.
Although this alternative is the least expensive, there are significant costs involved in removing tracks, constructing
a trail, and then removing the trail and reinstalling the tracks. The costs of removing the trail and reinstalling the
tracks when the railroad returns needs to be weighed against the short-term benefit. The cost of this part of the
work is 74% of the estimate (approximately $10.7 million).
Federal and state grant funding agencies usually require at least a 20-year guarantee on control of the property by
the trail operating agency as a prerequisite for funding trail improvements. The trail management agency may have
difficulty providing this assurance, and grant funding agencies may be reluctant to fund a project with a tenuous
interest in the land on which the trail would be constructed.

The estimated cost for this option, including rail removal and reinstallation, is $14.8 million.

Comment by capdiamont

#1 I didn’t mention trail usage numbers in the letter, but estimates were made by Alta Planning in the feasibility study:

#2 Not sure what maintenance costs would be. A joint powers agreement needs to be forged between the cities and the County to manage it.

#3 Is there realistic planned usage of the rails within the next 20 years? I don’t think so.

#4 See link above. Cost estimate for building a railbanked trail is between $4 and 5 million with an additional $10 million budgeted to rebuild the railroad at the second coming.

Comment by Chris Rall

#1. Again the numbers are higher than a trail in Marin.

#2. So, you don’t know and don’t care as long as you get the trail. It doesn’t have to be viable, who cares about creating jobs.


The Tourist Train study indicated a potential of 35,000 riders in its first year of operations, gradually increasing
to a stabilized 58,000 riders within 3 years. The project would create 20 to 25 direct jobs, 30 to 40 indirect or
secondary jobs, and 65 to 70 short-term construction jobs. The project could also extend the duration of visits
by tourists to the area, resulting in additional dollars to the local economy. The Humboldt County Visitors and
Convention Bureau data indicates that the average family visiting Humboldt County spends $150 or more per day
for lodging, food, and entertainment.

Is a viable use of the rail in my opinion. It needs that track for several reasons.

1) Around the bay from Samoa to Eureka, is a better ride, and more attractive to people, than just Samoa to Arcata.

2) By utilizing that track, more people will see the train, than just Samoa to Arcata. This will attract more people.

3) That track is needed for runs between the two cities, say for the 4th of July. Don’t laugh, but those run in the past brought together the cities. You could enjoy both festivals in one day. A lot of people, by my experience enjoyed these rides.

4)Wrong point. What is the cost of the new trail, once railbanked, then rail comes back. What is the time line and cost of the new trail, past rail revitalization?

Comment by capdiamont

Trains and Trails are a great thing but due to interstate commerce and other regulations, it simple is not feasable 1 2 3 to lawfully and legaly do a trail. Too much liability, who referrees people on this trail? Just walk-it at your own risk-other than rednecks who may have their dog next to the trail it should be permitted as such. Choo Choo congrads Marin and Sonoma and Mendo soon. Thank the gods a train is a comming.

Comment by SMART hippie

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: