Capdiamont\’s Weblog


The Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1998 – Dan Hauser
Wednesday 21 Jan 2009, 08:39
Filed under: NCRA, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, Uncategorized

There is so much misinformation being circulated about the closure of the NWP in 1998 that it is time to get the real facts published. First of all, during the summer and fall of 1997 a concentrated effort was made at preventative maintenance along the rail line, especially in the Eel River Canyon. Drainage ditches were cleaned and culverts were cleaned and repaired. Ties were replaced at critical places, but most of the work went into drainage systems.
There had been heavy rains during the winter of 1997/1998 with only minor problems on the railroad until late January of 1998. On January 22nd there was a big mudslide along the County road just east of Loleta. To keep the road open the County pushed the mud down onto the railroad closing the rail for 3 days. ON January 26th a slide on the Shively Bluffs closed the rail for 2 more days.
Finally, on February 6 a big El Nino storm and extreme high tide wiped out the southern end of the railroad in Sonoma and Marin Counties. That weekend the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat had pictures of extensive damage to the railroad and Highway 101 near Novato. The railroad was effectively closed at the southern end with no access to the main line. We ran a couple of trains as far south as Healdsburg, but there was no market to reload to trucks at that time.
With no trains running, we had no money to pay for a maintenance crew. As a result, there was no one to maintain drainage in the Eel River Canyon or to clear small slides. The entire rail line started to suffer damage and the rest is history.
The major purpose of putting this together is to point out the fallacy that the Eel River Canyon geology closed the railroad – the railroad closed because of the damage at the very southern end.

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9 Comments

No, the old NWP sought to close (abandon) the line because it was not competitive with truck lines, could not be run profitably as a passenger service, and was literally bleeding money for maintenance.

Stop the spin – if you think taxpayer subsidies to support the line are justified, show us a feasible plan to make that happen and put it to a vote.

Comment by Dave

Sounds to me like the NCRA did not have the traffic to generate the revenue or the reserves required to maintain the line through the Eel River. That is what you said, and is what everyone else says too. Thanks for clearing that up.

Comment by Anonymous

It will cost over a billion dollars to put the line back in service. Is that money well spent? I’d say no. Sorry Cap, we’d really all love to see rail back to Humboldt, but it isn’t eonomically feasible. Period. Sorry.

Comment by Anonymous

Dave, your time frame is wrong. Your thinking of when it was ran by Southern Pacific(SP), not NCRA as this post was about.

9:16 actually, you skip over a bit. The major problem wasn’t the Eel river, it was the southern end, which has been repaired. With the Southern end out, no trains/railcars could make it out of the NWP, thus no income. No income, no maintenance could be done, anywhere. No maintenance, it falls in to expensive disrepair.

No spin Dave, that was all truth. Taxpayer are warranted.

1) By having a railroad, we make cheaper transportation for industries, enabling them to stay in business, or increase benefits, or wages. If those businesses close, then we will be subsiding those workers on unemployment, or welfare.

2) Passenger service, on the southern end, there will be regular, frequent by SMART. On the northern end, during Eureka Southern times, the excursions were well attended, and they were considering adding a second passenger train set.

3) By using freight, there is less wear and tear on the highway, less money there. Bet you didn’t know it costs Caltrans over 2.4 million per year to maintain 101, between Eureka, and Willits. Or in other words, 26.4 million was spent. Yet, why do not blink an eye at this, and fight tooth, and nail against adequately funding the railroad. Funding which could of prevented the expensive repairs, and the resulting damage to the Eel river.

4) by using freight, less fuel is used, less air pollution, even more now that NCRA has to use modern locomotives per Novato’s settlement. There is also less leaks of oil, no pollution from tire wear.

Cost will not be, a billion dollars.

Comment by capdiamont

Personally, Looking from the perspective of railroad history that everything that is old is new again. The SMART system is reminiscent of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa and SP electric lines that connected the north bay, and seeing the NWP return wouldn’t surprise me.

All political BS and gurgle from the watermelon* type loudmouths aside, the NWP has a lot of work ahead for it.

Since it’s more of a shortline operation vs. the Mighty Espee broadining the gauge on the Northcoast narrow gauge lines and linking all the shortline track across the wide expanse of the Redwood Empire, I think there’s no easy way to rebuild this. This isn’t a “turn-key” operation to be sure, and every rainy day that passes in the Redwood Empire is another bucket of cash that has to be spent on rebuilding the line.

What I would give to see a pair of NWP 4-6-0’s barking upgrade and gliding through Island mountain and crossing the Eel river, smoke billowing out over the water…what a sight!
I would even love to see some SP SD9’s-full light package- rumble through the redwoods, with an out of tune Nathan horn squonking through the rural road crossings.

Alas, the NWP will be an entirely different operation. I think that it’s a fantastic place to build large manufacturing plants for “green” technology like solar panels, geothermal equipment and windmills. It would provide jobs, and the stuff would have to be moved out by rail!

What do you think?

(* Watermelons are Green on the outside, ‘Red’ on the Inside if you catch my political drift.)

Comment by Author of Interacting with Miniature Railroading

Yeah, “Watermelons.” Those would be the people who pose as environmentalists as a front for their true agenda — a massive public takeover of key industrial sectors, such as transportation.

That’s about right?

Comment by Hank Sims

Cadiamont –

1. We haven’t had a reliable freight service out of Humboldt County in 20 years. Use of the rail line is not practical for an overwhelming number of local businesses. I use to do pick ups from Humboldt Loaders in the early 80’s for a building materials distributor and we switched to truck before the rail closed for competitive reasons reflecting changes in business practices at the time. Your claim that businesses will close has been touted for the last 20 years as well, yet our unemployment rate has gone down during that time. Notice, for example, that the pulp mill did not close due to lack of rail service.

2. Sure, who wouldn’t want the excursion run back? The question is should the public foot most of the bill? As a passenger service, there is no doubt public money could be spent much more wisely.

3. As you know, public roads, used by everyone, are financed much differently than more limited use railroad infrastructure. If this project makes so much sense, let the public vote on a bond for it. Otherwise, find a private buyer or rail-bank for alternate uses.

4. The AQ argument is little more than an obvious attempt to green-wash the project. There are so many factors to consider for any short line efficiency – grades, loads, speeds, transfer loading, last mile delivery, etc.

Even if it only cost the public $500 million, it would better serve us to spend it on the H2 infrastructure being developed on the north coast in coordination with the Schatz Institute at HSU and help subsidize incentives for the start up of a fuel efficient fleet of size appropriate trucks and busses in my opinion.

Meanwhile, the NCRA (public) is mortgaging the public’s Ukiah Depot property today for $325,000 to the NWP (private sector) on a 5-year note at 8% per annum interest, all payable in 2014. The NCRA will use most of the $325,000 to pay attorney fees from their recently settled lawsuit with the city of Novato. Yikes – is this any way to run a RR? Good luck to the Humboldt Bay Harbor District on recovering the $200,000 principle on their already once-extended loan to the NCRA coming due in the not too distant future.

Comment by Dave

You going to respond to this last post Cap?

Comment by Anonn

Yes I’ll be responding. Got busy. Chores, and sick goat.

Comment by capdiamont




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