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NWP: End of the Line (Is this railroad too far gone for help?)

Today I wanted to talk about the NWP, in its current condition, and what it was like before FRA shut it down on the northern end.
For years, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad has been sitting idle on the northern end, the tracks slowly being retaken by nature. Massive tunnels along the Eel River Canyon have collapsed, blocking entry to some of the tunnels. The tracks are not faring well either, washouts are littered all over over the tracks, with some sections being washed out so bad, there is a massive gap in between the tracks. The last time the northern end was active was in 1997. North Coast Railroad #3190, and another NCR unit were moving freight cars from Eureka to Windsor ( I think), when reports of swinging track in the canyon came in. The crew of these locomotives were ordered to drop the string of freight cars at Island Mountain, and shortly after, they hurried back to Eureka. This would be the last train to set foot on these rails. Shortly after this happened, the railroad was hit by a series of floods that damaged the tracks. NCRA, or North Coast Rail Authority, tried to fix the line with the money that they had left, but fell short. The line was then deemed unsafe by FRA, and the line was closed for good. 

The railroad would make a final run in 2001, when former CCT #70 moved the inside track car from Eureka down to Willits, before a massive flood took out the tracks for good. The "zombie trains" have been parked for over 15 years, and have been damaged by vandals. The copper and wiring have been completely ruined, and the trains who once had a North Coast Railroad paint scheme on the side are completely covered in graffiti.  70 was scrapped, and the other locomotives are stuck in Eureka. 2872 looks to be in better shape than the other locomotives, but I'm not sure if the others will be saved. In recent years, trains have started to operate on the southern end, but the northern end is still silent.  My question is: Is it too late for the NWP to make a comeback on the northern portion of the line? 

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That section is NCRA's ROW, not SMART's.  I'm guessing when SMART upgrades to expand north in their third phase of construction (the second being from San Rafael to Larkspur,) SMART will upgrade to CWR on concrete ties at their expense. 


We have covered this before on this site, and I believe established that the SMART portion of the RoW starts somewhere in Healdsburg and none of that section as far as I know, is being rebuilt at this time.  I do know that the NWP has applied for Federal funds to get that portion to somewhere north rebuilt to freight rail standards but no results yet. 

I do expect that SMART will have to create a Cl 1 RoW on the NCRA portion and I'm wondering if this is a festering issue. 

You're right, Richard!  "My bad!"

NCRA owns the ROW between Schellville to Ignatio Wye and between the Headsburg Depot and Eureka.  I agree SMART will have to upgrade to C1 when it pushes north. At this time, I expect the "recently rebuilt" section "north of Santa Rosa" mentioned above was maintenance to permit NWP Co. to run to Windsor and part of the NCRA maintenance upgrade that was done before SMART began laying new CWR and concrete ties between San Rafael and Santa Rosa. I have it on good authority that NCRA's immediate goal is to get the line open up to Willits for NWP Co. freight traffic.

Thanks Bob and lets stay connected on this.  My G2 says that the NWP wants to at least get to Asti Redwood Lumber yard.  Willits surely but later as that gets into the Russian River and tunnels

That's pretty much the same story I get from my G2 guy.  They are shooting for Willits and connection with the CWR RR in steps.  They are looking for federal grant money to do that. (What else is new?)  Also they are in negotiation with AT&T to settle a claim against AT&T for installing miles and miles of fiber optic lines on the NCRA's ROW without authorization.  Decades of rent due on the encroachment should put a shot of serious money in NCRA's bank account.   I'm also informed that NCRA would welcome excursion service (e.g. a Sonoma "Wine Train") on the line but presently hasn't heard anything from any excursion operators.  NCRA's agreement with SMART provides for both freight and passenger operations, I believe.  We can dream, I suppose, that somebody with the big bucks might bankroll the purchase of one of those nearly-new Pacific knock-offs the Chinese have for sale and get some steam in the game!


Do you have a name at NCRA who has been looking for an operator for excursions?  I have contacts at AAPRCO

but someone would have to provide motive power.

So, when did NCRA acquire the right-of-way from Schellville to Ignacio?  This section (actually all the way to Lombard) belonged to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority and was conveyed to SMART in 2004...$FILE/210050.pdf

Unless there is another transaction out there, the line east of Ignacio should be owned by SMART, not NCRA.  That being said...NCRA always has had a freight easement over SMART trackage since the public agencies purchased the south end of the railroad, and that is upon what NWP, Inc. presently operates.  

I can see the line rebuilt to Ukiah, but I honestly wonder about a return to Willits anytime soon...I haven't seen anything yet suggesting to me sufficient business exists out of that area to support railroad operations.  Especially on that line.

But I could be surprised.

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV 

It's been pretty well documented on this site that SMART owns the Ignacio to Lombard section.  

I believe you may be correct, Jeff.  It all gets a bit hazy.  I did check and found that "The portion of the NWP main line between the Ignacio Wye in Marin County and the depot in Healdsburg is owned by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), a commuter railroad. The Schellville–Ignacio and Healdsburg–Eureka portions are owned by the North Coast Railroad Authority." according to  But I've also seen conflicting information, including what you've posted, that indicates SMART picked up everything from Schellville to Healdsburg and Larkspur, leaving Healdsburg north for NCRA.  On the other hand, can it be that the Schellville yard is owned by SMART?  I seem to recall that NCRA has not only a freight, but also a passenger traffic easement over the SMART ROW as well.

Have we ever established exactly where is the demarcation point in Healdsburg between NCRA and SMART?  Is it north or south of the depot?

NPF where do I find your "See my PAcifc Railnews index"?

I completely agree with Bob, in as much as the "normal" shortline railroad economics don't necessarily apply to the "new" NWP, in as much as they don't have to worry a whole lot about maintenance, capital projects, and a number of other "normal" operating costs.  In essence, SMART and those who pay its bills are very heavily subsidizing the freight operations...hence all the talk about the "sweetheart" deal the new NWP got when they signed their contract.  And to Emilio's comment about the stick rail being replaced with CWR...the role of the railroad has changed, if its historical value and interest are all it had going for it the entire NWP should be a fabulous bike path by now.  Stick rail, as nostalgic as it may be, really isn't appropriate for the new role our society has chosen for the NWP's south end.  Be glad there are steel rails of any type still on the right-of-way, and about to serve an important new role.  

One other point I was going to make last night was what happened to all that rail traffic from the Eureka area the NWP handled as late as the middle 1970s...a lot of it is gone and not coming back anytime soon, if ever, given the state of the timber industry.  A lot of what did get produced shifted to trucks as changing lumber markets and transportation pricing adjustments in the age of deregulation shifted a lot of the lumber traffic the railroad formerly handled to trucks.  

Interesting discussion, I'm enjoying it...

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV 

So, as per the original 2006 lease agreement between NWPY and NCRA, the NWP is to pay 20% of its net income, as determined by STB and GAAP accounting principles, commencing in the first year after NWP has generated positive net income in excess of $5 million.  Carl states the NWP is presently hauling 900 loads per year and needs 1,000 to break even.  Reading between the lines on that...appears NWP may not yet be profitable, and as such might not be paying anything rental wise for use of the tracks.  The full agreement is pretty interesting:

It would be interesting to see what kind of language is present in the extension of this initial operating agreement/lease.

Also somewhat interesting is the Mendocino Council of Governments Rail With Trail Corridor Plan, a 2012 draft of which is also on the internet.  Of note in this document is a statement to the effect John Williams of NWP stated the railroad expected to be handling 2,000-2,500 loads a year by the end of its second full year of operation, which would have been in 2013.  Appears they are still well short of that goal.  This document also gets into the EIR NCRA completed in 2011 covering resuming rail service as far north as Willits, and lays out many of the conditions NCRA has placed addressing potential return of rail service north of Willits.  Another pretty interesting read:

I do note this is just an appendix to the overall rails-with-trails plan.

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV


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