Capdiamont\’s Weblog


Freight trains coming soon : Sonoma Valley Sun
Friday 6 Mar 2009, 08:01
Filed under: Marin, NCRA, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma

Freight trains coming soon : Sonoma Valley Sun.

It will be years before the SMART train zips from Healdsburg to the Bay, but freight trains may be rumbling their way across Sonoma County much sooner, thanks to SMART.

I’m not sure how SMART gets the thanks, they are not providing the money, or the work right now, just the land.

Work is now underway to get the 62 miles of track running from Windsor to Lombard operational by the end of this year. The work includes laying new ties and fixing bridges, among other repairs. The track runs south from Windsor down to Ignacio, where a section cuts east through Schellville to connect to Lombard, near American Canyon. The construction team currently has equipment at its staging ground near Schellville and plans to be laying ties this week.
Mitch Stagner, executive director of North Coast Rail Authority, which is charged with repairing the infrastructure, said he expects about three round trips a day initially.

By the agreement with Novato, trains are limited
The NCRA owns the rail line from Healdsburg all the way up to Eureka and Arcata, while the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) district owns the line south of there, including the section near Schellville, although SMART doesn’t intend to use it. NCRA holds an easement allowing it to operate on the SMART line.
Once improvements are complete, the NCRA will lease the track to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWP). The NCRA board approved a five-year contract with NWP as the rail service operator in September 2006.
John Williams, president and co-owner of NWP, said the historic clients for rail service have been grain in-bound for the dairy and chicken farms, lumber inbound for construction. He also expects to send outbound some wine traffic.

Historically lumber has been outbound.

The most profitable contract would be with Sonoma County, hauling out waste. Since closing the landfill to private trash haulers in October 2005, the county has been trucking out tons of waste. Recently, the county has been looking to divest the landfill. Williams said he is still hopeful that NWP might secure a county contract.
He expects to start operations in fall of this year. After construction, they’ll still need federal railroad safety inspections, which might take a while.
The NCRA was formed in 1989 by the California legislature with an act intended to ensure the continuation of railroad service in northern California. The NCRA has been scrounging for money ever since. In 1992, the state purchased the railroad line from Willits north, and in 1995, a separate transaction connected that rail line to Healdsburg.
In 1998, el Niño did damage to the track; the federal railroad administration stepped in and secured a judgement that the track couldn’t be used until the necessary repairs were made. The NCRA has since secured $35 million from the California Traffic Congestion Relief Program (TCRP) to make improvements to the track running from Lombard to Windsor.
Repairs to the line were scheduled to start in November 2007, but the City of Novato sued, putting all work on hold. The case was settled in November and the NCRA has started making $4 million-worth of repairs on 40 bridges and put in $9 million for ties and roadway repairs.

Most of the work was put on hold, not all. One example was the work up here on the levee.

The track running through northern California was first laid to run timber from Humboldt down to the Bay. Southern Pacific ran trains on the line, then California Northern Railroad, which wanted to abandon the line. In 1982, a group of people banded together to try and maintain the line. Stogner said a private sector attempt went bankrupt when the company tried to be the railroad operator.

History of the line seems a little muddled here. At one time California Northern was an operator of the line, and you can see video of this. However they couldn’t abandon, what they didn’t own. It was Northwestern Pacific, owned by Southern Pacific at the time.

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