Dedicated to Sharing the Heritage of Redwood Empire Railroading
There are many changes to the Northwestern Pacific Right of Way.
1) Ends NCRA
2) Smart will have the right of way all the way up Willits.
3) SMART will takeover all of the freight operations on its Right of Way.
4) The Right of Way thru Eel river Canyon will be turned in a trail.
5) The north end will be turned over to Cal Trans.
The legislature is amending it as we speak. No word from GOV Brown.
Lots to talk about here. Myself I haven't made up my mind yet.
I haven't delved into the specific legalities of this new legislation, but my gut tells me NWP Co. isn't going to turn loose of its contract for four million bucks. NWP Co. cut their deal with NCRA when nobody else would touch it. Now that NWP Co. has built up its business and it's long shot bet paid off, with a lot of hard work, no doubt, I don't see them being too eager to renegotiate with SMART for their franchise. A deal is a deal and IIRC, NWP Co. bought a 99 year deal, or something like that.
Maybe somebody else knows the details on this. SMART has said it's very interested in maintaining and developing freight service on its route.
I agree with your analysis. The crucial point is can NWP CO. have SMART agree to provide freight spurs for freight service from their renovated RoW.
To me this is a larger issue on pushing freight loads off of the highway (101) and onto rail.
This is a complicated issue which I will investigate.
I also expect that spurs will be an issue for SMART. It's not like they can just throw down a manual switch and be done with it. They'd probably have to integrate each spur into their ATC system. And SMART probably wants to minimize the number of switches their high-speed equipment has to cross and I'm sure doesn't want to maintain the switches which may see a lot of wear on the commuter ROW. Yes, "it's complicated."
On the other hand, SMART would benefit from the freight revenue and probably would become eligible for federal freight subsidies that would also benefit their commuter operation infrastructure.
Quiet as it's kept, SMART has long-range plans to extend commuter operations at least as far north as Willits and east to connect with the Capitol Corridor system.
It is really interesting that Smart hasn't said anything about SB-1029. Because of this legislation SMART, in fairly short, will get the Right Of Way all the way up to and including Willits. That is my Guess.
I also believe that the SMART board is staying focused on getting the original 70 miles built and up running. Only then will their gaze shift North and East. Someday it may even shift South but not anytime soon. Their plate is full!
Now that I live in Sonoma Cty I had hoped to attend the SMART board meeting yesterday to hear if they had any details to provide to us citizens. There was nothing on the agenda re: this issue but they did go into a closed session.
Here's my guess as to what is happening on the board. They don't want to appear too eager. SB-1029 was only signed by the Governor on the 29th of last month. The California Dept. of Transportation and Dept. of Natural Resources will be running this investigative body. This first body hasn't been put together yet. Smart may be waiting to hear from them first. I mean why look for problems? That's all we need is another SMART recall vote. I'm with you I'd would love to be a fly on the wall during the next closed door meeting.
Here is another interesting thought. What has the NCRA said about SB-1029?
I don't know what the NCRA board has said about SB-1029, but I'll bet they are all thinking, "Better them than us!"
The NCRA did a masterful job of keeping things on "life support" for many years without a dime from the State. They pretty much just ran out of cards to play. I think it's really a cheap shot that those pushing SB-1029 bad-mouthed NCRA as some sort of "failure." Now it's time for the State to "pay the piper." They sure aren't going to be able to walk away from the NCRA's debts and contractual commitments. Let's not forget that the NCRA is a State agency, too.
I believe I read that the State already recently gave SMART a grant ($200K ?) to do preliminary planning for an eastward expansion to connect with the Capitol Corridor line. This is part of the planning to resolve the pressing issues of the Highway 37 causeway, which is settling into the mud. They keep piling dirt on top of it. At present they've even "floated" sections of it on huge Styrofoam blocks, but that is just a stop-gap. They know they have to widen it from the one-lane configuration as well, but are facing major engineering and environmental obstacles. They have considered a new causeway on pilings. Extension of commuter rail service across the 37 corridor on the existing SMART (NWP) ROW between Lombard and Ignatio is part or the long-range State plan to address the issue. A rail to ferry connection at Port Sonoma is also being considered as part of that. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it's "the beginning of the beginning." It is pretty much a conceptual foregone conclusion that SMART will someday extend to Willits. I expect that SMART will continue to extend its reach incrementally as time goes on. That's the way commuter rail systems seem to operate. SMART is well aware that a freight component goes hand in glove with that. There's too much money to be made on freight to ignore it.
Similarly, I expect it will be a long, long time before a "hiking trail" is going to be completed through to Eureka. The new bill only authorizes a planning study. Unlike railroads, hiking trails don't generate revenue, nor do they enjoy the federal preemption immunity from CEQA and other local regulations and federal subsidies that railroads do. By the time Caltrans pencils out the cost of a hiking trail (including bridge and tunnel repairs,) they may well discover that a hiking trail alongside a repaired railroad ROW is going to cost the State less overall.
CALTRANS will have a meeting on OCT 17-18 to begin the process of implementing all legislation passed this last session. They will be setting up a group to work with the Dept. of Natural Recourses and begin implementing SB-1029.