Dedicated to Sharing the Heritage of Redwood Empire Railroading
I copied and pasted this directly from a trainorders page.
Jacob Park, Vice President of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. has released the following letter, sent to National, State and Local officials, including the MTC, stating that despite repeated meetings, SMART is damaging the railroads authority under the STB is gain and establish service to existing and future customers. At the center of the controversy is the the removal of spurs and the building of gauntlet tracks. Here is letter that was sent on Friday: July 4, 2014
NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY
Mr. Steve Heminger Executive Director Metropolitan Transportation Commission Joseph P. Bort Metro Center 101 8th Street Oakland, CA 94607-4700
Re: 1. Damaging Effects of SMART on Freight Rail Service and Local Businesses 2. Freight Rail Benefit to the Local Economy and Environment
Dear Mr. Heminger,
My name is Jacob Park, and I am the Vice President of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP). I am writing to notify you of past and proposed actions taken by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) that are hurting local businesses, obstructing NWP’s rightful use of the railroad, and are in direct conflict with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) goal of promoting efficient and shared use of rail lines for commuter and freight services. I ask for your help in addressing these critical issues so that both freight and passenger rail service may be equally productive and viable. The success of freight rail service is of enormous importance, particularly because of its impact on local businesses and the environment.
Background: The NWP is the Surface Transportation Board certified railroad providing common carrier freight service under contract with the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). State and federal taxpayers have provided $68 million to re-open the railroad for freight service. The NWP has been providing freight rail service to Sonoma and Marin County businesses since July 2011 thanks to these funds.
SMART owns the section of rail line on which NWP operates, between the connection with the California Northern Railroad near American Canyon (Brazos Junction) to Novato, and the north-south line between Healdsburg and Novato. The NCRA owns the perpetual freight easement between Brazos Junction and Healdsburg.
Issue: SMART is currently building a commuter railroad along the portion of right-of- way shared with the NWP between Novato and Windsor. Although this is a shared right- of-way, SMART’s historical actions (please see attached San Jose Mercury News article, 2008) as well as planned construction fail to accommodate the needs of freight rail. SMART has limited capital and a promise to Sonoma and Marin County residents to build a commuter train between Cloverdale and Larkspur, however the commuter service needs not result in the sacrifice of freight rail, a service that these same Sonoma and Marin County taxpayers want and depend upon. Freight rail and passenger rail are not mutually exclusive. This letter details three critical points:
250 Cambridge Avenue • Suite 104 • Palo Alto, CA 94306-1554 • (650) 289-9850 • FAX (650) 289-9856
1. SMART’S ACTIONS ARE HURTING LOCAL BUSINESSES
SMART has (a) removed customer turnouts, (b) removed passing sidings and yard tracks, and (c) built 15-mph gauntlet track, all of which obstruct and hinder NWP’s obligation to provide common carrier freight service, thus eliminating businesses option to ship by rail.
(a) Customer turnouts are not only vital, but they are the rightful property of each industry and property owner and were in place prior to SMART’s construction. SMART is ripping out the turnouts and subsequently requiring each property or the NWP to pay $400,000 to replace the turnouts. This is equivalent to a city repaving a major road while removing all the driveways, then requiring payment from each homeowner to re-install the driveway.
A few specific examples of local businesses negatively impacted by SMART’s infrastructural changes include:
Lagunitas Brewing Company is one of the largest businesses in Petaluma and the North Bay, as well as one of the fastest growing breweries in the country. High volume utilization of their turnout through inbound rail shipments would include malted barley, wheat, and bottles. Outbound shipments would include bottled beer and kegs. Additionally, this busy turnout would be shared by another industry, Adobe Creek Wine and Storage, which offers shipping and storing of wine and other alcohol products. Adobe Creek’s customers include a number of local wine makers, who requested access to the freight spur located on Adobe Creek’s property. This request was impossible, however, due to the fact that the rail turnout serving both Lagunitas and Adobe Creek was removed by SMART, and subsequently not replaced. SMART informed the industries that the cost to rebuild the turnout would be the industries’ responsibility.
California Shingle & Shake Company (CSS) is another business along the corridor that has had its turnout taken away by SMART. With the recent economic growth and increased construction in the North Bay, demand for roofing products is on the rise. CSS has requested that their turnout be rebuilt, allowing them to ship by rail and serve the public with quality roofing products, in addition to lowering their costs as well as their emissions. CSS was a customer of the railroad prior to the shut down of the railroad in 1999 and would like to be again.
Several additional properties along the corridor have had their rail option severed, as shown by the attached article from the Press Democrat (2014). SMART is blocking NWP’s ability to provide dependable and efficient freight rail service to businesses and property owners along the shared corridor, and denying taxpayers’ access to the national rail system, a public benefit on a publicly owned right-of-way. These actions by SMART demonstrate SMART’s disregard for industry and property owners’ rights to freight rail service. As a public agency, SMART has failed to serve the people they are mandated, and funded, to serve.
NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY
NWP requests that the MTC require SMART to (i) replace and finance all turnouts removed by SMART, and (ii) discuss and agree upon any proposed turnout removals with customers, property owners, and NWP prior to turnout removal.
(b) Passing sidings are critical to the efficient operation of both passenger and freight rail. They allow for trains to meet and pass each other on a single-track railroad. SMART has rebuilt the Santa Rosa siding with a high-level passenger platform between the main track and siding, which prevents freight trains from accessing the passing siding. With the Santa Rosa siding eliminated for freight use, the two nearest sidings are located 20 miles apart in Petaluma and Windsor. This distance will virtually eliminate the option of running a freight train between Windsor and Petaluma during daylight hours, thus increasing the operating costs of the NWP and costs to consumers.
For over 100 years, the Petaluma Yard has been used by the railroad. This yard is crucial to the NWP, strategically located in Petaluma with close proximity to the majority of freight rail users on the line today. SMART intends to eliminate the Petaluma Yard and convert it to strictly a passing siding. SMART has slated all adjacent yard tracks for removal as well. These actions will effectively cripple the NWP, forcing freight yard work to more distant locations, resulting in increased costs to both NWP and consumers.
NWP requests that the MTC require SMART to finance and build alternatives to both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma Sidings. SMART implemented these changes without considering the needs of freight.
(c) Gauntlet tracks create a financial and environmental burden to local citizens, businesses, and the railroad. The design of the SMART-built gauntlet tracks is faulty, resulting in increased freight costs, slower delivery times, bringing harm to freight trains, communities, and the environment. NWP objected to the now-built-gauntlet tracks long before any were constructed (please refer to the attached letter from NWP addressed to SMART, September 7, 2012). In the United States, four independent rail systems utilize gauntlet tracks. Three of these systems implemented correctly designed gauntlet tracks to accommodate high-level boarding station platforms, allowing the coexistence of passenger and freight trains. However, as the fourth rail system, SMART has incorporated a flawed design, being the only system requiring freight trains to utilize the gauntlet track. Currently SMART has installed four gauntlet tracks with plans to build two more. These SMART-designed gauntlet tracks restrict freight train speeds to 15-mph, although maximum authorized speed of freight trains within the joint corridor will be 45-mph. Therefore, for every station along the line, with the exception of Petaluma, the freight train must slow to 15-mph. This is problematic, because as freight trains grow in length and frequency, slowed velocities translate into longer wait times for the public at crossings, increased emissions due to cars idling for longer intervals at crossings, as well as freight trains decreasing and increasing speed repeatedly and needlessly throughout the system. It equates to a permanent slow down of the main line where all trains will have to slow or stop for every station along the corridor. Should SMART desire express trains in the future, every train will be required to slow to 15-mph to pass. Additionally, these as-built gauntlet tracks will prevent any Amtrak Capital Corridor train from serving the majority of stations along the line, as well as limiting California’s ability to interconnect with the state’s rail network. These crippling flaws were preventable, yet attempts by the NWP to communicate and collaborate were dismissed by SMART.
NWP requests that the MTC require SMART to either (i) increase the length of the gauntlet tracks, therefore allowing freight train speeds of at least 45-mph, (ii) require SMART trains rather than freight trains to utilize the gauntlet tracks, since SMART trains are already required to stop, or (iii) eliminate gauntlet tracks all together.
NWP’s continuous efforts over the last three years to establish an open, professional dialogue have proven futile. What we had hoped to be a partnership has unfortunately become a dictatorship. NWP continues to be willing and ready to collaborate with SMART to forge a mutually productive plan for shared freight and commuter rail.
2. FREIGHT RAIL, THE ENVIRONMENT, AND THE ECONOMY
The environmental benefits of freight rail are tremendous. The American Association of Railroads (AAR) cites that one-gallon of fuel moves one-ton of freight 473 miles. A single rail car hauls the equivalent amount of freight as four truckloads. Railroads are four times more fuel-efficient than trucking, therefore lowering California’s carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions, cost to businesses, price to consumers, damage to roads, and demand for oil.
Were Lagunitas Brewing Company, CSS, and Adobe Creek Wine and Storage able to regain use of their turnouts, Bay Area roads would benefit from a reduction in truck traffic between an estimated 600-800 trucks per month based on current volumes to their respective businesses. This equates to immediate congestion relief and a reduction in greenhouse gases for the Bay Area.
Rail transportation has established its record for environmental and safety measures compared to road, generating less air pollution per ton-mile than trucking. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Freight-Rail Bottom Line Report (2000) summarized that “freight rail is critical to the freight transportation system, the competitiveness of many industries, and the economies of most states.” The objective of this 140-page report is to evaluate the influence of freight rail transportation on the national economy, the need for investment in freight rail, the risks of delayed action, and the capacity of freight rail to parallel our nation’s projected economic growth over the next 20 years. An excerpt from the Bottom Line Report’s Executive Summary is the following:
“Freight rail provides shippers with cost-effective transportation, especially for heavy and bulky commodities, and can be a critical factor in retaining and attracting industries that are central to state and regional economies. If all freight-rail were shifted to trucks tomorrow, it would cost current rail shippers an additional $69 billion this year alone — or $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years — causing significant changes in business and consumer costs.”
A recent news release (April 2014) from AASHTO warns that, “transportation interests remain concerned about the impacts to the nation's surface transportation infrastructure if the federal Highway Trust Fund becomes insolvent, as projected, this summer”, and that the freight rail system offers a solution for highway cost savings.
In conclusion, on behalf of local businesses, taxpayers, and freight rail users, the NWP requests that any current and future funding allocated to SMART include clear conditions designed such that both freight rail and passenger rail may flourish equally and concurrently. The benefits of a strong freight-rail system have been realized since the 19th century. Now and into the future, the success and efficiency of both freight and passenger rail are of paramount importance to the local and global community.
We look forward to working together. Thank you. Sincerely,
Jacob Park Vice President Northwestern Pacific Railroad
Enclosures (3): 1. San Jose Mercury News article (2008) 2. Press Democrat article (2014)
3. NWP letter to SMART (2012)
North Coast Railroad Authority Board of Directors Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Board of Directors Friends of SMART Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Suzanne Smith City of Petaluma, John C. Brown
City of Rohnert Park, Darrin Jenkins City of Santa Rosa, Kathleen A. Millison Town of Windsor, Linda Kelly California State Assembly, Marc Levine California State Senate, Senator Noreen Evans United States Congressman, Jared Huffman United States Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein Press Democrat, Matt Brown
The photo shows the gauntlet tracks through Cotati. (Mike Pechner Photo.)
Man, I wished now I had listened to the Anti Smart campaigners.
Could this be us not stepping up and saying something earlier? How long have we known that gauntlet tracks were going in, and that freights were going to be diverted to the outside? A while, right? Just curious. I feel like we as a community and railfans could have stepped up a little bit more.
we knew the gauntlet tracks were going in a long time ago, it wasn't until when the first one was installed that we learned that they were "backwards"
So, I got to thinking, the reason we in the US have a standard gage is because Congress regulates interstate commerce. There were dozens of railroads with different gages that didn't work in the early days of railroading, resulting in having to off load at different locations. They found if they had a standard gage, that the railroads could just interchange the cars... wouldn't it makes sense to have a standard height and platform clearance now that public rail projects are taking effect? in the case of this, if Amtrak wanted to run stations up to willits (NOT GOING TO HAPPEN BUT WHAT IF) they would have to build their own separate stations, because SMART's don't work with anything but SMART's Train... with a standard station, that is ADA, there wouldn't be as huge of an issue. The standard station could also be configured to handle freight trains, or be on its own siding off the main. This would also help out when these agencies need to change their equipment due to age...
No way. That makes much too much sense. Isn't Amtrak pretty much "ground level accessible" everywhere? That was, and is the US standard for passenger rail, isn't it? SMART, being a local commuter system, seems to think it knows better, I guess.
Actually, I believe Amtrak currently runs a feeder bus from Santa Rosa to Martinez or thereabouts. I don't know how often or what the ridership level is, but I see them on 101 now and again. Does Amtrak preempt under some FRA regulation? Could Amtrak just decide to run from Santa Rosa if it wanted to? Could Amtrak run service to the Ignacio Wye so SMART could feed into their service from Santa Rosa?
What I liked about San Diego, was that Coaster, Metrolink, and Amtrak served all the same stations between their down town station and Oceanside with ground level stations that could accommodate (AND DID) excursion trains. As for the ADA compliancy, all the station platforms had a raised section that the Amtrak and Coaster trains could set a ramp to their handicapped accessible cars. This platform was and always will be the best option... The Sprinter in San Diego is a light rail, but they built the platform in such a way that freight trains can move thru. They added ramps that pop down to the platform when the doors open... its awesome... AND YES, Amtrak can run service where they want... in many cases, (SMART INCLUDED) railroads must seek permission to operate passenger service from Amtrak. Amtrak usually has first dibs. In the cast of the NWP, if they wanted, they may choose to only pick a few big stops. but in San Diego, the Amtrak and coaster stop at all the same stops... you can use the Amtrak as a commuter like the coaster... its even the same price.
Yea, and why didn't SMART think of that? I recall somewhere reading that the "experts," (read: "hack political appointee SMART board members") were all thrilled with themselves because they opted not to go with a ramp-to-platform system. Drank the DMU manufacturer's Kool Aid, I guess.