Filed under: Marin, NCRA, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Novato, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma
NORTH BAY – The North Coast Rail Authority expects to have limited freight trains running from Windsor through to Lombard at American Canyon where the tracks meet the national rail exchange by October of this year.
The NCRA has nearly completed repairs to 55 crossing signals and bridges in the wake of a settlement in October with the city of Novato, which had challenged the construction. NCRA also has completed levee repairs near Schellville.
“Our goal is to have the 62-mile section repaired to class three by August,” said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the NCRA. The class three rating will allow freight to travel up to 40 miles per hour on the tracks.
The last part of the Novato settlement agreement is an area of 13 quiet zones in the city. This is required to be complete by Dec. 31, 2011. It includes improvements to the crossing gates and signage that will allow trains to travel through the crossings without sounding the train horn.
In addition, they will install welded rail to further mitigate noise, fencing to discourage trespassing, landscaping to minimize glare from train lights, and purchase state-of-the-art locomotives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Until these agreements are met, said Mr. Stogner, they are limited to three round trips per week, and only during daylight.
The goal is to eventually have three round trips per day.
Meanwhile, the rail authority has requested $36.3 million from the federal stimulus American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for repair on the Northwestern Pacific rail line from Windsor to Willits.
The request was made through Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and details three sections in the bill that potentially could provide funding for the NCRA projects.
The request also details the four phases to make the repairs. The repairs would create a 142-mile short-line railroad.
“Once we got past the Novato settlement, everything has gone smoothly,” Mr. Stogner said. “What is important to me right now is to get stimulus money because our goal is to get to Willits. The trains are good for the economy, good for the environment and good energy policy.”
“We need to take advantage of the rail corridor as it is already in public ownership,” he said. NCRA also said it had completed its environmental impact report.
“It is late, but it is complete,” Mr. Stogner said. The $3 million report was due out in February but is now set to be released March 9, he said.
It is not just the NCRA that is interested in the repairs. The tracks will eventually be shared with Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit. On the part of the tracks owned by NCRA, the transit district has an easement and vice versa for the tracks owned by SMART.
The two entities are in meetings to figure out how best to work together so the track upgrades NCRA is making will benefit SMART when it begins its work, which will upgrade the tracks for passenger trains moving up to 80 miles per hour.
“We have started meeting with SMART on these issues as everything we do will benefit them,” said Mr. Stogner.