Trains to move through Valley again
NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC ENGINE 1922, the Schellville, is parked in a yard by the Schellville depot on Eighth Street East and Fremont Drive.
Somewhere around mid-June, Valley residents might again be seeing freight train service running through the southern part of the Valley.
On Thursday, the North Coast Railroad Authority received permission to restart freight service on the historic Northwestern Pacific (NWP) rail line between Brazos Junction (Lombard) and Windsor.
In an order signed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the agency said it was partially lifting the emergency order that stopped all train service on the North Coast in 1998 following a series of El Nino storms.
The agency's announcement permits freight service on a 62-mile stretch of railroad from Brazos Junction east to US 101, and extending north along US 101 through the cities of Novato, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Windsor.
"FRA's decision is great news. It makes it possible to restart train service from Napa to Windsor by mid-June" said Hal Wagenet, chairman of the North Coast Railroad Authority.
The rail authority has invested more than $60 million since 2007 to repair 56 crossing signals, replace 50,000 crossties and 23,000 tons of ballast, shore-up levees in Schellville, repair 43 rail bridges and three movable bridges that traverse the Napa and Petaluma rivers between Windsor and the train connection with the Union Pacific (Brazos Junction/Lombard) located south of Napa.
The rail authority leases the track to a private short-haul rail operator, the NWP Co. According to NWP Co. president, John Williams, three round trip trains a week will haul feed grains, wood products, building materials, wine and other general merchandise during the start-up phase between Napa and Windsor. He said he plans to continue repairing the line north to Willits as financing becomes available.
Wagenet said the rail authority is planning to certify a $3 million Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in June that evaluates the impacts of train operations on the Russian River Division of the line between Brazos Junction and Willits. NCRA must also finalize agreements with SMART and the city of Novato prior to start-up of train operations.
"The impacts from the return of freight trains are overwhelmingly positive," said Wagenet. "One freight car will remove four trucks from Highway 101, and one gallon of diesel will move a ton of freight over 400 miles," he said.