Dedicated to Sharing the Heritage of Redwood Empire Railroading
The addition of a couple people (especially Fred Cain) to this list has sparked a lot of good and interesting discussion. In the interest of showing what the railroading in the Eel River Canyon is up against, I wanted to present the list of major slides and other trouble spots in the Willits to Eureka trackage. The following is transcribed from Fred Stindt's Northwestern Pacific Railroad Volume 2 book, and is based on information he obtained from the Northwestern Pacific m-o-w department in 1983. The list goes from south to north. It's important to keep in mind this only covers the spots on the line then identified as being affected by major to minor landslides. It doesn't include those many drainages where culverts wash out, or collapsed tunnels, or the constant maintenance that is the many large wooden trestles or bridges on the line. This also doesn't take into account or consideration the many places on the NWP south of WIllits that are subject to the same geologic forces and resulting roadbed instability and other operational problems.
The following list does give at least some idea of how much went into just keeping the line open for business, and what would be expected should the line ever get rebuilt and put back into operation in the future. It's not enough to do it once, as noted below there are many places on the line that effectively have to be rebuilt on a near daily to at least weekly basis. This is what always made railroading to Eureka such a dicey and expensive proposition.
As noted above, this is from 1983, so anything noted as being "current" condition in the following list is now 36 years old. Many of these trouble spots are easily found in Google Earth, where you can get at least some idea of what 20+ years of no maintenance has done to the railroad. As for directional references, remember that Southern Pacific used "west" to denote anything going towards San Francisco and "East" denoting anything going away. When applied to the NWP, anything noted as "West" would be geographically south of the referenced point, while "East" would be to the north.
1. Grannel Slide, just west of Dos Rios, has been static in recent years, but must be contoured frequently to keep drainage water diverted and prevent saturation.
2. Berger Creek Slide, 1000 feet long north of Dos Rios at Milepost 167, is a major problem. A 200 foot sink area is followed by a 650 foot hump, then 150 foot sink. It all slides toward the river, and is presently out of alignment about 5 feet and humped about 15 feet. The two sinks require weekly surfacing because the track moves 2-3 inches down and 4-5 inches out of line weekly. Unlike most problem spots, Berger Creek continues active in the summer months.
3. At Deer Lodge Slide a sink 150 feet long requires track surfacing two to three times weekly. Movement is 3-4 inches down and 2-4 out of line.
4. Three-quarter mile north is a 400-foot sink on a fill. It requires surfacing at least once a week account movement -2 inches down and 1-2 inches out of line. The shoulders require build up on the river side and fill on the hill side for drainage.
5. Woodman has a 100 foot sink moving weekly 4-5 inches down and the same out of line. Requires surfacing 3-4 times per week.
6. Tunnel #19, 1.5 miles north of Woodman at Milepost 172.7, is daylighted. Loose rock on the uphill side causes frequent slides.
7. West of Spyrock a 120-foot sink needs surfacing at least once a week.
8. East of Spyrock is a series of small sinks. Must be surfaced once a week.
9. West of Bell Springs, a mudslide plugs a culvert in the winter. To prevent washouts contouring is done in the summer to minimize saturation.
10. The Bell Springs sink washed out five times in December 1981, between 6 and 24 feet deep, and again in March 1983, a 150-foot section, 30 feet deep.
11. East of Bell Springs, a short 40-foot sink requires surfacing 2-3 times a week. Weekly movement is 3-4 inches down and 2-3 inches out of line.
12. At Milepost 187, Richards, two sinks, each about 75 feet long, must be surfaced 2-3 times per week. Weekly movement is 3-4 inches down and 2-3 inches out of line.
13. The Hawkins Sink at Milepost 187 is an old major slide. It is now a 150 foot sink that must be surfaced 2-3 times per week. It moves 3-4 inches down and 2-3 inches out of line weekly.
14. The Milepost 188 Sink is 150 feet long and needs surfacing 1-2 times a week. Weekly movement is 1-2 inches down and 1-2 inches out of line.
15. The Oops Sink at Milepost 188.7 and the Goddard Sink at Milepost 188.8 are separated by a hump which has raised the tracks about two feet. Weekly movement is about 1-2 inches down and 1-2 inches out of line, requiring surfacing 1-2 times weekly.
16. Ramsey Sink extends 1,200 feet. The track moves towards the river 3-4 feet each year and must be lined back every summer.
17. The Milepost 190.25 slide is a major problem in the canyon. It is 400 feet long and the track is on an active mud glacier that moves all year long- sometimes as much as 6 to 12 inches per day, and must be inspected before any train passes. When debris covers the rail a shovel follows behind a dozer, clearing the buffer strip between the tracks mud glacier. (Note: you can still see the shovel permanently assigned to this slide in Google Earth today).
18. Although Island Mountain Tunnel is branch new (1979), earth movement at the west end causes the walls there to bulge and will be a continuing problem.
19. Quarry Spur, Milepost 195.7, has also a major slide and a sink. To keep the shoulder built up workers have to constantly cut back into the hillside for fill. The subgrade is unstable, needing rail and pole piling to hold the shoulder in place. Contouring the hillside is needed to reduce saturation. All of this was done in the summer of 1982, but at present the pilings are sunk and have slipped as much as 20 feet out of line.
20. The Milepost 201 slide east of Kekawaka is a major slide 900 feet wide and 3/4 mile long, with a slide mass of some 18 million. cubic yards. The track is now humped 20-25 feet. This slide is contoured each year.
21. From Kekawaka to five miles east of Fort Seward are 34 sinks, each averaging 1-4 inches down and 1-4 inches out of line. They require surfacing 1-3 times per week.
22. Scaling rocks at Milepost 222.p continually fall on the track for a distance of 300 feet requiring constant cleanup.
23. The Denmark Slide at Bolt, Milepost 222.9, is 600 feet by 3,200 feet, or 40 plus acres. It goes under the tracks causing a sink that must be raised 2-3 times a week. There is also a shale slide area 400 feet long which must be cleaned weekly and is humped at four feet.
24. From Bolt to Eel Rock, Milepost 225.1, are seven sinks which each move 2-5 inches down and 2-5 inches out weekly. They must be resurfaced 1-3 times per week.
25. The McCann Slide, Milepost 232.2, presently is fairly stable, but must be cut back and contoured each summer.
26. Between McCann and Shively, Milepost 245.6, there are four sinks, all having weekly downward movement of 1-4 inches and two also side movement of 2-3 inches. Surfacing is required weekly. In addition west of Shively the 244 Sink is a slide and sink of 780 feet long. Contouring is required annually and ditching monthly. Track is surfaced weekly as movement averages up to 2 inches down and 2 inches out.
27. West of Scotia, Milepost 255.6, the railroad crosses an extremely unstable hill. Constant cleaning is required. At each end is a 120-foot sink and a hump in the middle. The hump was lowered 4 feet in 1982, and now requires another four feet. The area must be contoured each summer.
28. Scotia Bluffs extends for 2.5 miles where the track sits on a narrow ledge between the Eel River and near vertical bluffs. Heavy slides are a constant threat in the winter months. Naning Creek, Milepost 257.0, is a frequent casualty during the storms and can be expected to go out at least every 2-3 years. In winter a ditcher is stationed at this location 12 hours a day to keep the railroad operable. Three slides occurred in 1982. They were over 20 feet above the rail and extended 200-250 feet. Bulldozers and shovels are required to keep the shoulder on the hillside cleaned and drainage ditches open.
Thanks a lot for documenting this. If any entity should every become serious about restoring the line, this would at least be a good starting point.
It sounds to me like the CPR main might be very nearly as difficult and expensive to operate as the NWP. Here is a link to a TRAINS article:
The difference is in the traffic. The CPR's got it - we don't.
Fred M. Cain
To Jeff's details and to your dream Fred.
The technology of building rail lines has changed DRAMATICALLY since the original NWP line was built with horses and hand tools. Just look at what the French railroad SNCF has done to build out their TGV lines. You tunnel thru those areas rather that pay the op ex to keep them cleared of debris.
Case in point is the Calif. HIgh Speed Rail (HSR) project. The City of San Jose, always a wanna be destination where the donwntown is mostly empty (Silicon Valley story) has lobbied to require the HSR to stop first in San Jose before going to San Francisco. To meet that requirement will require that a 10 to 12 mile tunnel be built thru a mountain range riddled with active fault lines. Why not apply that technology to 1 or 2 mile tunnels thru the Eel River hills rather than stay on the slippery slopes.
BTW our new Governor is re-thinking technology for HSR. Could lobby him for this line if we can push the City of Eureka to create a biz plan for a port.
Fred, as Dave S. knows we used to have some active members on this w-site who live up that way. Any of you up there listening?
Well, Richard, Newsom is no longer "re-thinking" about the HSR. I guess he effectively killed it yesterday. Now what we are going to have is a super railroad ROW from Merced to Bakersfield capable of top speeds of nearly 200MPH. What the heck? What in the world are we gonna do with that?
I am almost inclined to predict that there is going to be a major public outcry over this and many California residents are going to demand that ALL work be stopped on this. How in the world can they justify $13 billion for a Merced to Bakersfield railway which in the end will probably only be used by Amtrak at speeds of closer to 90MPH?
And yet the State refused to provide a mere couple 100 million to let the NCRA rebuild the Eel River Canyon Line! Go figure!
Fred M. Cain
Good catch on picking up that comment on the TRAINS forum. I don’t subscribe to that forum.
To answer your question at the NCRA meeting yesterday the board made a clear position statement that the line is NOT abandoned period.
The issue came up via a Staff report discussion item. Security National (a bank apparently) had sent a letter to the NCRA stating that due to no train traffic being operated in a years time on a section of the old RoW which ran thru their property, they were refusing to pay the NCRA any funds for an easement. Commissioner Fennel spoke up and said that allowing this would be a “slippery slope” (interesting comment considering the hard rain coming down outside the meeting) for NCRA when other entities are paying for easements/access.
The issue was referred to counsel for action.
So not abandoned.
Absolutely correct, the line has never been abandoned. I don't remember now if NWP ever went through a formal abandonment process for discontinuing service, which can be done separate from abandoning the rail line, or if they have simply relied upon service embargoes left in place since 1998.
I also don't know how off hand how much authority the STB has to force a rail line to rebuild a damaged rail line and place it back in service, or if they would have the willingness to enforce such an order if they do have that authority. Anything such orders they issue could be subjected to judicial review, and the State/NCRA I think would have a fairly easy case to make that such an order would pose an undue burden on the railroad. It's also hard to see who would be a good plaintiff in such an action now, in as much as the North Coast has been without rail service for over 20 years now. It's not like there are many industries left that used the railroad when it was still open, nor are there many that would use rail service if it were restored. The only litigation over the end of service I've ever heard of was a case brought by the bankruptcy trustees for the local ownership group that bought the California Western from Kyle, the trustee attempted for a while to recover money from NCRA under the premise that NCRA's failure to maintain service south from Willits contributed to CWR's bankruptcy. I don't remember now how that case turned out. The incident Fred referred to was not actually flood damage but rather a tunnel collapse, and the service restoration wasn't ordered by the ICC. Specifically, the timeline ran as follows. The winter of 1982-1983 tore the railroad apart, leaving it closed off and on starting in late January, and then in April NWP embargoed everything north of WIllits because of flood damage. NWP effected repairs and reopened the line on 9 June 1983; however, operations only lasted about five weeks, as on 18 July NWP implemented a $1,200 per carload surcharge on all traffic moving north of Willits, which caused all shippers in Eureka to switch to trucks. NWP appears to have hauled only three freight loads to or from Eureka between then and when the Eureka Southern started up a year and a couple months later, two loads of butter out of Humboldt Creamery in Fernbridge and one boiler for Blue Lake Boiler Works above Arcata.
NWP applied to abandon the line north of WIllits on 1 September 1983. On 11 September a motorist on Highway 101 called in a reported fire in Tunnel #12. The fire gutted the 881-foot tunnel, which NWP figured would cost $635,000 to repair or $850,000 to bypass, and the railroad laid off all remaining people in Eureka and trucked all remaining locomotives and cars trapped north of the tunnel into Willits. Several shippers plus other government agencies brought suit against NWP in Federal court, contending NWP had illegally abandoned the line; the judge agreed and ordered NWP on 27 January 1984 to rebuild the tunnel, which they did within two weeks. Then on 7 February the ICC denied the abandonment petition, but as the $1,200 per carload surcharge remained in effect the line still remained inactive until the Eureka Southern took over that fall.
As for abandonment, at this point it would be in all reality an open and shut case. No traffic has moved over the line in over 20 years now. Abandonment regulations do heavily favor retaining rail service over all other purposes; should NCRA file to abandon the rail line there would be opportunities for other parties to step in to buy the line from NCRA for continued operation. Only after that process is sorted out can the STB find the grade suitable for another public purpose, i.e. a trail.
It'll be interesting to see how the Security National situation works itself out. As time goes on it becomes increasingly difficult for NCRA to maintain their right-of-way, and I would expect that one or more of the affected parties could try making a case that the line has been "de facto" abandoned by NCRA's apparent inaction or otherwise continuing to use the right-of-way for construction and operation of a railroad.
Thanks again for your input and information. I kinda sorta remembered all that but could no longer cite the dates.
By the way, here was an interesting article in the Eureka Times:
I'd copy and past the entire article but it's pretty long so I guess I won't. Hard to tell exactly what this means or if it even means anything at all. The article also seems, at least to me, to raise more questions than it resolves.
Fred M. Cain
Well, shoot! Here we go again folks. Just in case anyone in California hasn't noticed yet, please let me assure you that the drought is OVER.
It was reported on the TRAINS Magazine forum on my NWP News thread here: http://cs.trains.com/trn/f/111/t/274053.aspx?page=2#3131516 that the Eel is now 20 feet over flood stage at Fernbridge (wherever that is). So, this does not look good for either a future railroad or a future paved bicycle trail.
Fred M. Cain
That canyon literally gets it from the top down and the bottom up. Building a trail will be questionable at best. It will wash out multiple times a year also.
I also couldn't imagine going through the Island Mountain Tunnel again. I have been thru it once on foot and once in a daylight car. Both times scared me to death. Its a level of dark that boggles the mind.
Fernbridge is at Milepost 268.7, about two miles north of Fortuna and 16 miles south of Eureka. Humboldt Creamery's facility sits at that station, it's also where the state highway to the old Victorian town of Ferndale takes off from old 101. This is not far from where the Eel dumps into the Pacific, and it flows through a broad valley at that point. Eureka Times-Standard newspaper has a nice ten image slideshow of the flooding in Humboldt County right now, focusing mostly on the lower ends of the Eel and Mad Rivers.
A NWS river forecast issued for Fernbridge a couple days ago projected 25.6 feet yesterday (27 February), with a rapid fall off after that. This appears to check out in as much as the highway to Ferndale is reported as being open with no controls at the moment. If the river did top out at 20 feet over flood stage at Fernbridge that would still mean the river had been higher than that in four of the last five years, the top two recorded years are 29.5 feet in 1965 and 27.7 feet in 1956.
No question really that this flood- though it looks like it was a relatively brief event in comparison to past events- would cause damage to the rail line, in all reality until we get another major event like 1964-1965 whatever either has washed out or will wash out or get lost to a landslide has already been obliterated in the last twenty years. I note Shivley lost its primary access road to the outside world in this event, and it lies uphill from the rail line.
I wonder who was in charge of naming towns up in that area: Furnbridge, Furndale, and Fortuna, all within a couple of miles of one another.
I also wonder how rains this year compared to 1964.
Well, it's not 1964 YET but the news keeps getting worse and worse. A new powerful storm is supposed to hit this weekend (March 1 - 3) and indeed, as of March 1st early a.m. the first outer band of showers is coming onshore at Eureka. Weather forecasters, however, think that the brunt of this storm might hit the central coast around San Luis Obispo.
But the jet stream forecasts for the next week look, in my mind, frightening. I truly hope they are wrong or inaccurate but if they prove to come true, there is likely to be massive damage on a state-wide basis. It won't be limited to the former NWPRR vicinity.
So much for the "fact" that the multi year drought is now the "new normal". I guess I'm just a bit skeptical that our climate has changed all that much if at all.
Is the world growing warmer? Of course. But I'm not sure we've seen the effects from that yet. Climate is actually a long-term AVERAGE of extreme weather events. When an extreme event like 1964 hits, or that last mega drought we just came through, it's really tough to draw any concrete conclusions from that.
I took a course in meteorology years ago and my professor hammered that into us.
Fred M. Cain