NCRA chooses operator for NWP

Discussion in 'Class II & Class III Railroads' started by John Barnhill, Jun 1, 2006.

  1. John Barnhill

    John Barnhill TrainBoard Member

    NORTH COAST RAILROAD AUTHORITY 419 Talmage Road, Suite M Ukiah, Ca 95482 707-463-3280 Phone 510-915-2656 Executive Director Cellular 707-463-3282 Fax
    Mitch Stogner, Executive Director Allan Hemphill, NCRA Chairman


    May 31, 2006 – North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) Chairman, Allan Hemphill, today announced the rail authority’s selection of NWP Inc. to be its railroad operator on the 316 mile line that parallels US Highway 101 between Eureka and Novato.

    NWP Inc. is a soon-to-be incorporated California company consisting of Woodside Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Evergreen Natural Resources of Oroville, and Berg Holdings of Novato. Hemphill said that NWP Inc.’s CEO will be John H. Williams, current President of the Woodside Consulting Group. Hemphill said that Mr. Williams was instrumental in the establishment of the Caltrain rail service on the Peninsula and was the General Manager of the NCRA when it operated freight trains on the Eel River Division of the NWP line in the mid-1990’s.

    “This team has the rail experience and the financial means to restore freight service on the North Coast,” said Hemphill.

    Sonoma County District 4 Supervisor and NCRA Director, Paul Kelley said “as a long-time transportation advocate for widening Highway 101, I am excited about adding freight service as another transportation improvement.” Kelley said that the return of rail service to Sonoma County is “good for the economy, good for the environment and saves energy by removing hundreds of diesel trucks from 101.”

    Kelley said that the goal is to begin making repairs to the line this summer and to restore train operations in phases “beginning at the point of interchange near Ignacio Blvd. and working north to Windsor.”

    Hemphill said the initial lease with NWP Inc. will be for train operations between Lombard (near Napa) and Dos Rios (near Willits), with an option to add portions of the line through the Eel River Canyon and up to Eureka.

    “The future success of this line is dependent on a rail connection to the Port of Humboldt Bay. We all understand that,” said Hemphill. He said the major commodities to be shipped on the NWP line include municipal solid waste, rock, forest products and, eventually, in-bound containers from the Port of Humboldt Bay.

    “We are pleased to partner with the NCRA and look forward to the successful reopening of the railroad as quickly as possible. NWP is committed to investing in this venture, as we are confident the time is right to return the railroad to the profitability it enjoyed for many years. This line will be a strong economic factor along the Northcoast,” said John Williams, CEO of NWP Inc. Hemphill said that the NCRA and NWP Inc. will negotiate the details of the lease and operating agreement over the next 30-60 days.


    The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) was formed in 1989 by the California Legislature under the North Coast Railroad Authority Act, Government Code Section 93000, et seq. The mission of the North Coast Railroad Authority is to provide a unified & revitalized rail infrastructure meeting the freight and passenger needs of the region; a first class service working in partnership with others to build and sustain the economy of the region.
  2. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Well, there does appear to be some forward movement ongoing.

    The notice mentions necessity of restoring service to Humboldt Bay. Is there a present obstacle to this being done?

    If you see a projected time line posted, that would be some very interesting reading!

    Boxcab E50
  3. JDLX

    JDLX TrainBoard Member

    Obstacles? Plenty of them...

    Off the top of my head...

    1. They have to get the south end reopened first. Much of this south end has not seen a train since November for some occassional work trains the only service offered on the south end came during a several month long period in Spring 2001, and even then it only covered a small part of the line. The customers on that stretch have lived five years now without rail service...will they come back? What will it take to get them to come back? How many are even still in business? Anything new out there?

    2. The area the south end runs through has grown tremendously since the line closed. Imagine you buy a house, live in it for five years, and then the railroad you didn't know was there starts operating again? Can you imagine the NIMBY screams once trains start running again?

    3. Many of the violations that prompted the FRA to close the south end eight years ago still have not been cured. That will take some time to get worked out.

    4. Once we get the south end reopened then we can concentrate on the north end. What do we find? A railroad built through some of the most geologically unstable country anywhere in the western United States, country so unstable that SP employed several hundred maintenance-of-way employees for this 160 miles of track, and that was in the mechanized age. This trackage has not been maintained to anywhere near those standards in the past 30 years and has not been maintained at all for the past 8. There are inumerable slipouts, washouts, land slides, collapsed tunnels, rockslides, and generally bad track, all of which need to be essentially completely rebuilt before trains can run. You can cure this with money...$100 million might be a good place to start, but will even that be enough? Where will the money come from? Once you rebuild the tracks, will you be generating enough revenue to keep the tracks maintained? The North Coast Railroad seemed to do fairly well with around 5,000 loads coming out of the Eureka area...but that lasted only as long as the tracks remained in place. The second the railroad halted service for more than a day or two due to flood/storm damage the only thing that brought it back was FEMA money. SP had to rebuild the line almost from one end to the other at least a couple times when they had can get the line rebuilt, but where will you be the next time the Eel goes on a rampage and wipes out 100 miles of track? Or the next time you have 30 landslides and 60 washouts/slipouts happen in a two day period? I hope that the company has enough cash to keep them going when (not if) that happens, as FEMA made themselves pretty clear back in 1997/1998 that the flow of Federal disasture relief dollars was stopping.

    In the abandonment application way back in 1983 SP stated that six out of every ten dollars of revenue the NWP grossed went back into the roadbed.

    5. Much of the work required on the north end will require construction/stormwater runoff permits and associated enviornmental reviews under such laws as the Federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the state's version, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The permitting and review process may take quite a while.

    6. You have an additional adversity that will not affect the south end too much...there are several active- and powerful- environmental groups active on the north coast that do not want to see the railroad return. A couple of them used to have pretty interesting websites about the evils of restoring rail service through the Eel River Canyon. Some of these groups are very adept at using the court systems to block anything they do not agree with. Many of these groups use NEPA and CEQA violations to get projects blocked. Once we get to the north end the NCRA and the operator better have sizeable war chests set aside to pay for litigation...they are going to need it.

    7. And then you will have the general NIMBYism rearing its head on the North Coast. The Eureka area has grown and prospered a lot in the 8 years since the railroad quit the north end. There are fences built across the tracks, along with many other encroachments...people who may argue that the railroad has de facto abandoned the line, and they might find a judge who agrees with them.

    8. Once you get the railroad open, can you keep it open? The NWP as a whole never made any sort of economic sense without 500-600 carloads of redwood and douglas fir 2x4 flowing south from Eureka each week. It has been a long, long time since that amount of traffic flowed...North Coast got lucky if they hauled that much in a month. Many of the shippers that sent lumber south when the line closed in January 1998 are now long gone...only a fraction of the sawmills active 8 years ago are still here today. Much of the current traffic projections come from this hope of one day turning Eureka into a major port, at which time they will need the railroad to be competative. A good part of this goes back to my earlier discussion about you can get the line fixed this year, but where does the money come from the get it fixed next year, and then the year after that, and so forth...

    At least they have a guy involved in the new company who is at least familiar with what he is getting himself into.

    As for timelines...they don't mean anything. NCRA timelines are blown out of the water before the ink is even dry...if NCRA ever actually issues a timeline that they sort of stick to, why then THAT would be a big news story by itself!

    It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the future.

    Jeff Moore
    Elko, NV
  4. Shannon

    Shannon TrainBoard Member


    You hit the nail right on the head. All of us who live in the west and follow the SP, NWP or what ever its being called this year have seen and heard alot of the horror stories of the NWP. My wife and I rode the North Coast Limited passenger service that was offered in the mid 1980's and because of bad equipment, bad track and just plain bad PR, the service was stopped because it could not make money. In the early 1980's when the Island Mounrian tunnel was closed because of a fire, it took three months just to put out the fire and another 6 or 7 months to fix the tunnel.

    The Scohia Bluffs have not been stable for over 100 years. That in its self was a constant problem for the NWP. When there is a derailment almost anywhere on the line it took hours to reach the site. This line DOES NOT run along side Hwy 101 the entire lenght from Willits to Eureka no matter what the article says.

    I want to see this line restored as much as the next guy. However as you mentioned jeff the carloads are not there. Pacific Lumber has been shuttered for many years. Cargo incomming to the Port of Humbolt Bay is going to take time. How many caontiners does the NCRA expect to pay for when the fall into the El River during a derailment.

    If you have ever had the chance to ride the NWP the river is littered with cars that fell into it during derailments. The banks of the river in some spots are proped up with rail and ties removed from the derailments to try and return the line to service as soon as possible.

    The SP called the NWP "Never Will Pay" for a reason.

  5. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Member

    How serious are they about turning the port of Humbolt bay competitve?

    It seems to me that to do that you're going to need real class 1 quality track. There's simply no way it would be worth it otherwise.

    Somebody is going to have to pony up serious bucks, even if it were the most stable, flat ground in the world.

    The Environmentalists as was stated will get in the way too.

    I hope they succeed, Heck, they have to fight off a Port in Mexico and ports up and down the columbia begging for more traffic.

    Still, I can hope.

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