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.)
Just from my minimal research for a paper I did last year, it just seems to me that there's just a bunch of people who don't know how to run a railroad. Minimal research shows that gauntlet tracks are a great idea, but don't usually work in real life.
I think the gauntlet tracks not only accommodate the width of the SMART DMUs so their door thresholds come right up close to the platform with no "gap" for passengers to step over or any need for a automated "bridge" to extend from the platform to the car but also are for safety reason. It is the safety consideration that dictates that the freight traffic use the gauntlet outside the mainline so the freights will pass platforms as far from them as possible. Granted that the gauntlet will slow down the freights, but the fact is that standing close to a passing freight at speed is very dangerous. For example, a snapped, flailing length of that steel strapping tape they use to secure packing could take your head clean off at 45 MPH. If somebody standing on a platform waiting for a SMART train got whipped with something like that, it wouldn't be much good for business!
A good point Bob, but... here in Sunnyvale we routinely enjoy 79mph passenger trains through our station; no problem; and two or three freight trains that move along pretty smartly (pun not intended). I commuted on Caltrain for nearly three years every day until a year ago and the only people who have been tragically struck by trains have done so on purpose, by their own hand, with very few exceptions.
I do understand that accessibility would be enhanced by the door-station platform connection. That being said the trains run on time here; a lot of them and half or so use the older cars that are less accessible than the Bombardier type.
To me something like Caltrain is what's needed up north. Light rail is available here as well on different routes and is very underutilized.
I certainly agree! If I were king, I'd have leased Caltrain type equipment ("mature technology") and had the darn thing up and running for half the price in three quarters the time (allowing for laying new track and building stations.) Unfortunately, SMART opted for "Rolls Royce" DMUs. The problem we have here with SMART, unlike Caltrain, has rolling stock that require raised platforms and, apparently, that necessitates gauntlet tracks. There are four systems in the US that use gauntlet tracks and SMART is the only one that doesn't run the gauntlet track between the mainline and the platform (i.e. to pull over to the platform for a stop.) For freight, this means they cannot run at 45 MPH, but rather have to slow to 5 or 10 MPH to "run the gauntlet" every time they come to a station platform that is too close to the mainline track to permit clearance for freight cars. That's no way to run a railroad.
hence my comment, SMART is trying to hurt frieght
Yea, I hear you, Mike, but sometimes "stupid" isn't intentional, it's just stupid. What we have to realize is that SMART picked up its ROW when it was essentially abandoned by SP and its successor. SMART was never conceptualized with freight in the equation. (Note that SMART picked up the section between American Canyon and the Ignatio Wye so they could preserve a connection to the national rail system, likely never expecting freight would run from American Canyon ever again. NCRA and NWP Co. came along after SMART was conceived and I don't think SMART really ever has wrapped its head around freight sharing the same space they do. If they did, nobody would have ever come up with the ridiculous idea of putting a bike path next to a railroad right of way!
Actually NCRA came first, it was formed by the state to preserve operations in the California north coast, they started by buying the bankrupt EUKA and running it as the North Coast Railroad. in 1996 the SP sold the south end to the following; NCRA, Sonoma county, Marin county, and the GGHTB (if you notice, with the exception of NCRA, all of those agencies are the ones represented on the SMART board). The NCRA made their part of the purchase continuous with what they already owned. I believe the reason why Sonoma and Marin counties took interest in the line was because they wanted to preserve it for possible use as a commuter line, but were more concerned with preserving freight. during the 1996-1998 tenure of the NWP there was interest in commuter rail, and studies were done (finding that it was feasible), every time any sort of progress was made towards making commuter trains a reality, problems with freight service would suck time, money and attention away from it. in 2002 the current SMART was formed which consolidated the various ownerships of the line from healdsburg south (Sonoma & Marin counties, GGHTB) into SMART. NCRA was left out of it, but they retained perpetual operating rights between healdsburg and American canyon.
Thanks! You're right. Now that you mention it, I also remember talk about somebody wanting to pave over the SMART ROW and running commuter buses on it.
IIRC SMART owns that portion of the ROW because Marin and Sonoma had the foresight at the very beginning to buy it for peanuts and "bank" it for what was at the time a vague hope of a 101 corridor transit system. Fact is, SMART is under all sorts of pressure to deliver and is severely under-funded, so they are doing whatever they can to cut costs. No question that SMART has little regard for NWP Co. They have different mandates and theirs is an "arranged marriage." There are valid points on both sides and no shortage of "win-win" solutions. For example, I can see SMART's "smarting" about installing new switches at every long-abandoned turnout along the ROW, as well as the property owners' smarting about $400,000 bills to pay for new ones. Why should the property owners reap a windfall of the new equipment at the taxpayer's expense? Why should they suffer the loss of an adequate access they'd paid for long before or that "came with the land" when they purchased the property. Obviously, there's a middle ground here... maybe SMART antes up for the new switches, etc., and the property owners pay a tariff to SMART that, over time, amortizes the cost of their turnout.
The real problem with SMART, as noted here before, is that although it now has a good "captain" at the helm with Farhad Mansourian, a guy who has cleaned up a huge inherited mess (e.g. he saved tens of millions scoring the Galvanston Bridge) and really knows how get a big public works project done, he and the board made up of political appointees don't really know squat about running a railroad. Mansourian is a reasonable guy, though. Put a gun to SMART's head and its heart and mind will follow.
Does anyone know what came of this letter since it was sent on July 4? I have no idea how fast this sort of complaint gets addressed, but I find it interesting that it looks like SMART isn't laying the gauntlet track at Atherton in Novato just yet. Longer gauntlet ties, apparently so, but no switches or gauntlet rails. It seems to me that NWP needs to flex its muscles on these points. I'm not so sure that the MTC has the teeth to do much of anything about it, though. Their just another ABAG-type "committee" with no real enforcement authority AFAIK. There are a number of Federal Commissions, however, which have pretty powerful enforcement authority. The FRA and DOT, ICC and so on would probably yank SMART's chain pretty good. Come think of it, if SMART were my client, I'd be cautioning them about the risk of being sued for malicious interference with peoples' businesses in a jurisdiction where juries are probably not all that happy with them to begin with.
Good article, but they should have also mentioned the ongoing work to restore service between Windsor and Redwood Valley, and eventually, Willits. We in Mendocino County can't get our freight back while SMART causes issues, so they need to stop being jerks and do what they were paid to do, operate commuter trains, NOT interfere in freight business. Thankfully, SMART can't do a thing north of Healdsburg, THAT is owned by the NCRA.
Northwestern California needs good freight and passenger service, somebody needs to step in and make sure they both prosper.