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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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Thankyou Jeff for spelling it out.....I remember well the mid 70's when trains coming South out of Eureka consistently had 100 cars or more.  Trains rolling through Ukiah both North and South many times had somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 to 140 cars, the North of which required extra engines sent South down to Redwood Valley.....and the trains would travel up to Willits in two sections,....each section requiring 4 or more SD9's or SD7's.  I also remember in the late 70's and early 80's, many SD40's...some from the UP...and the same from SP...including SD40T-2's, and occasionally GE's.  Thankyou for putting the entire story to a glorious end.....because it was a great story about a real glorious railroad.  Rest in Peace.....North End of the good old 'NoWhere imPaticular.'

Addenda.....forgot to mention.....for someone is bound to ask.....did the SD40's, and larger units ever make it up to Eureka?  No.....they were used up to Willits, but no further..... because of weight restrictions.....namely 'Scotia Bluffs', and some other spots of weak footing.

The pictures in this video look, really, really bad.  Unbelievable. 

However, one question that I have with this video:...and I don't know this, I'm just wondering, could this possibly provide a somewhat distorted view of the damage?  It seems like they took pictures of the very worst of it.  They also included what appeared to be derailments that happened long ago and even a shot of the Island Mountain bridge that collapsed in 1964 (I think).

I guess my question is, what percentage of the roadbed from Willits to Eureka actually looks this bad.  After trying to "fly over" the line using Google Earth, I think it's a very small percentage BUT bear in mind that Google images are not always up to date.  As a case in point, I "stood" on a bridge in "Street View" and was able to look at the line in both directions.  On one side of the bridge the line was completely lost in brush and trees and it was tough to even make out where the rails were.  The view on the other side of the bridge showed good, clean albeit rusty track.  So, I have to assume that those two shots couldn't have been taken at the same time.  Maybe even years apart.

Since I'm in Indiana I am simply not able to drive up there and look around never mind walk part of the line.  It would be most interesting if someone could, though.


Fred M. Cain

No question the video probably contains the worst of the worst the rafters passed.  Also no question there are relatively long stretches of badly overgrown but otherwise intact railroad.  The real question is, how much is it going to cost a potential operator to keep those parts of the railroad that are unstable passable so that you can connect the stable parts?  If the answer was cheap, the line might have survived a little while longer than it did...

Edited to add this: to your point of walking along the tracks, I found a series of blog posts by a group of three guys who hiked the line from Fort Seward to Dos Rios back in 2012.  Painfully slow loading pages, but lots of descriptions of what they saw on their trip. 

First of several pages of the trip are at

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV

Yes that is a good journal including how they had to evade the marijuana growers along the RoW.  Now that the glorious weed is legal, I wonder if that is still a problem.

Too bad the NCRA never developed their own gardens along the RoW in anticipation of legalization.  All about timing and they never seemed to have any.

FYI I will be attending their board meeting this Wednesday in Healdsburg to see what they report.   Doug Bosco of the NWP will provide a report.


Still a major problem.  Back in October the Humboldt County Sheriff made a major drug bust in Alderpoint, the growers set up a lot of their temporary greenhouses over the tracks themselves.  Main camp seemed to be at the old boxcar body turned section shed.  See the pictures in this story...

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV

Well, as the greenhouse skeleton clearly shows, that short section of track is still in pretty good shape.  Just needs a few ties changed, new ballast and surfaced.


Fred M. Cain

Good information, Jeff!  I agree that the odds of opening the line to Eureka are very slim and solely dependent upon some as yet unmaterialized source of business.  No doubt about that.  However, NWP Co. is operating under contract with NCRA, which is a government agency and which owns the RoW and all of its improvements.  NCRA isn't, as far as I know, taxed for any of its property.  NWP Co. seems to be in the somewhat enviable position of only having to operate rail service with a small fleet of engines and maintain a small portion of the RoW north of Cloverdale, if it ever gets that far.  SMART takes care of the RoW south of Cloverdale.  That would appear to make NWP Co. a viable business, even if it isn't anywhere near the "cars per mile" rule of thumb.  I'm no expert, but I think NWP Co. is a viable short line operation because of that.

As much as I like SMART running on NWP, I kind of wish they kept the original stick rail, I feel if they keep doing that concrete style rail, it will take away historical value from the railroad. And Jeff, thanks for the information! 

It's just not compatible with 80 MPH DMUs.  "Historic" isn't always practical with modern rolling stock. 

all very recently rebuilt line from some point N of Santa Rosa & continuing thru Windsor seems to be on wood, observed @ several points 01 Jun this year.

a year or 2  ago i was @ a club gathering across from the Petaluma station. some workmen who dropped by the supply yard next to the station told me all they were using in that area was traditional rail.


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