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"NCRA, Novato strike deal to resume freight trains"

From an article on the Press Democrat website:

By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 4:55 p.m.

North Coast Railroad Authority and the city of Novato have reached a tentative deal on the return of freight service in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.

The authority still needs to finalize a joint operating agreement with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, the commuter rail agency that owns the tracks. And it must certify a final environmental report on the freight project.

Earlier this month, federal rail regulators lifted a 10-year embargo on freight traffic over the Northwestern Pacific Railroad south of Windsor. They halted traffic in 2001 after the route was damaged by heavy storms.

The authority has since spent $68 million on repairs and the 62-mile stretch now meets U.S. safety standards, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

NCRA has contracted with a private operator, NWP Co., to provide the cargo service.

Novato sued the rail authority in 2007 to halt the project, charging it failed to consider environmental impacts of train traffic in the city.

The two sides reached a settlement the following year. The $1.5 million deal called for “quiet zones” at rail crossings in the city, use of low-emission locomotives and other provisions. NCRA also agreed to pay Novato's legal costs.

But NCRA last year asked for some changes in the agreement, and the two sides have been negotiating ever since.

“It appears to be a done deal,” said Mitch Stogner, NCRA's executive director.

Novato attorney Jeff Walter didn't return a call seeking comment. But in a May 17 email to the authority, he said Novato has tentatively agreed to the changes.

They still must be approved by NCRA's board, the Novato City Council and a Marin County judge.

On Monday, NCRA notified Novato that it plans to start freight service “on or about June 16, 2011.”

Service would begin with three round trips a week between Windsor and the rail junction south of Napa, where NWP connects to the national rail system. Initially, customers will use the rail line to ship grain, lumber, aggregate and other commodities, according to NWP Co. president John Williams.

The railroad remains closed north of Windsor.

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Novato's selfishness has added YEARS of completely unnecessary delay to this project and countless millions in lost revenue.  Their unreasonable demands for quiet zones can not be justified in terms of the anticipated volumes of freight traffic.  If SMART really does happen, which I doubt, those expensive upgrades could be implemented then.  People who live near railroads expect to hear trains, and that line has been there for probably more than 120 years!

 

Novato is "Northern Marin", but they've adopted the "Southern Marin" attitude that the sun rises only for them each day.  They need to realize that they are not at the center of the universe.

 

It sickens me to think about how much of our tax money is essentially sitting idle because of the obstance of this second-rate premadona city in Marin.

Thats like here in Windsor, next town south from Healdsburg on the 101, a housing developer built 3 or 4 brand new subdevisions under the final aproach for the airport, and people who chose to buy the house and live in or rent it, are starting to sue the Sonoma County airport because "to many planes are flying over." Novato needs to realize they were the ones who decided to move next to the railroad tracks, and they should expect noise sometimes at least.  It is unnessisary delay to a public utility.

After all, its not like the railroads trying to disrupt you, but take some responsibility Novato and Marin.

Agreed! When you build houses next to train tracks, just because there aren't trains at that moment, it doesn't mean there won't EVER be trains there again. Same thing with airports. It's like moving next to a farm and complaining that it smells of manure, or buying a haunted house and complaining about ghosts. What did you expect? Quiet zones, please, what a bunch of malarky. Nobody MADE anyone buy these homes near the RR, and now they are acting like they're victoms children. What happened to common sense? I have a friend who was in the Bay Area recently (not exactly sure where), and a lot of people in that area are, in her words, "hoity toity."  Unfortunetly, I guess it must be true of Novato, too. And "enviromental impacts?" The line has exsisted for what, 120 years or so? If anyone out there chatches a three-headed salmon as a result of this or any other RR, then I'd be concerned about pollution. Right now, how much MORE pollution is being caused by the all the extra truck traffic generated by the RR being out of service? Now it's ready to open, and who's stalling? Novato. So we can dismiss Novatos' claim that it cares about the environment as nonsense. 

 

Zachary M. Toler

Found this recently on the NCRA website.  You would think Novato/Marin would be a little embarrassed by their behavior and settle the matter quickly.  But noooooooo!

 

http://www.northcoastrailroad.org/Acrobat/Editorial_This_is_rich_Pr...

 

 

The article is over 3 years old. I'm not sure it fair to bring that up now.

What's unfair is the two to three year impact that Novato's/Marin's actions have caused to the restart of freight operations on the NWP.  What if every town big or small along the line decided to take similar legal actions or make outrageously unjustified demands for quiet zones or other unnecessary amenities at the expense of a nearly bankrupt State?  So far, the only real winners are the lawyers ... as usual.

 

I have been following progress on the repairs to the line for years.  As a taxpayer it is extremely frustrating to see expensive half-finished or completely refurbished crossing signal installations (like the one at Hanna Ranch Road in Novato!) get vandalized and destroyed due to the absence of regular freight activity on the line.

 

Novato should pay for any vandalism or theft of railroad equipment that occurred within their city limits during the last three years.

I aggree, Novato needs to pay for any vandalization, as a result of no trains, caused, in part, by Novato, at least in their city limits. It's crazy to spend money to fix stuff, only to have it destroyed by thugs due to lack of use. But, the way things are, Novato will most likely NEVER pay for such damages.

 

Zachary M. Toler

Steve, if the article talks about actions of three years ago that are impacting the present, isn't it relevant? I've only just  now seen it, but ultimatly, it appears that the actions of the Marin county and Novato of three years ago are a part of our problem today. I mean, part of the Novato lawsuit seems to be about the lack of maintenance of the Novato Creek trestle (resulting in flooding), and yet this same lawsuit appears to block that maintenance. It may be three years ago, but what has really changed? If the article wasn't relevant to today, then I'd have to aggree with you.

 

  Respectfully,

Zachary M. Toler

Dave, I can't even open the link...I clicked it and it opened to a blank page.

 

Zachary M. Toler

The link opens a PDF.  I just tested it again now and it works.  Do you have the Adobe Reader plug-in for your browser?  In any event, I will paste the text here:

 


EDITORIALS This is rich


February 1, 2008


Marin sues to block rail repairs, then complains about line's upkeep


First, Marin County endorses a Novato lawsuit that seeks to block repair work on railroad tracks through the North Coast. Now, at least one Marin County supervisor is blaming the North Coast Railroad Authority, which oversees the rail line, for creating a flooding problem in Novato last week.  Why? Because the rail line and a trestle in the area weren't properly maintained.

 

This would qualify as one of those "only in Marin" items.

 

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold this week blamed poor maintenance of the NCRA's bridge over Novato Creek for creating a dam that caused the creek to back up and flood parts of Novato.

 

According to NCRA Executive Director Mitch Stogner, the NCRA, which sent out crews and equipment to resolve the flooding problem last week, has been wanting to raise that 100-foot bridge as part of its $25 million track improvement plan. But that project is being blocked -- by Novato's lawsuit.

 

"If we can ever get out there and fix it, we will raise (the bridge) and reduce the propensity for flooding," Stogner said.

 

This just points out the absurdity of this lawsuit which is preventing king an upgrade of the 62 miles of track through Sonoma County. How, exactly, is this helping the environment?

 

Novato's main contention is that the NCRA should have to do a full environmental impact report on the entire stretch of the rail all the way to Eureka before freight service could begin in just Sonoma County. If the judge agrees, it could delay rail service for years. A trial on that issue is set to begin later this month.

 

Such a twisted interpretation of state environmental laws is akin to demanding that an EIR be done on Highway 101, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, for a highway expansion in Sonoma County.

 

But let's be clear. This is not about Novato's concern about the environment. This is about Novato's concern about Novato and its real estate values. The city hasn't had freight trains coming through town for seven years, and it wants to pretend they never existed. So some officials want the court system to make the NCRA go away -- except, of course, when they need help with flood problems.

 

Thanks for going to all the time & trouble to post this article, Dave! Yeah, I have no idea if this computer has the Adobe plug-in or not. I'm not all THAT "computer savvy" yet, so that sounds right to me. I'll go with that answer!

 

Zachary M. Toler  

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