Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network

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SMART awarded AGAIN-$21 M from Calif State to extend to Windsor

Good news about this award.  BUT why does SMART require so much funding to extend an existing RoW to Windsor which NWP has used recently, for their trains?  Does that just mean that SMART will cut off all of the freight spurs as they extend their passenger rail line into Windsor with no allowance for NWP to service customers?

Ugly 

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Heard about this from SMART GM this morning. The grant to extend to Winsor was for $20M. This amount, I presume, is necessary because SMART will have to lay new CWR and concrete ties and the entire length of ROW will require PTC (positive train control) upgrading, raised station platforms, etc., etc., etc. Well within budget projections. This amount is expected to pay for the whole cost of the extension to Windsor.

SMART is really humming along with ridership way over even their own projections, sometimes nearly by a factor of two and they are running three-DMU trains on some runs to keep up with the passenger load. There won't be any NS center cars, though, because NS went under on it's US operations due to a business plan that failed to consider things like unions and American regulations. SMART was able to get a negotiated huge price reduction on additional DMUS from manufacturer NS because they were "tooled up" to build those (but not the middle cars.) The three-car trains with three DMUs will be it for the foreseeable future, though because there won't be anything more made by NS in the US when the last of the DMUs are delivered. What that means for SMART's getting parts and manufacturer support is anybody's guess now, though. SMART GM Farad Mansourian was stuck with the NS DMUs which were already contracted when he took over for the screw-up management that started the project. (Things like raised loading platforms that required gauntlet tracks at all stations to accommodate freight clearance regulations, etc. etc. etc.) With the much larger ridership, SMART is now feeling the pinch and wishes it was initially designed with double tracking. There will probably be more double tracking installed to accommodate more traffic on the system.

BIG NEWS: The $1M that came with the $20M is for initial engineering planning for expansion of the SMART east  to connect to the national rail system at Suisun City or Fairfield where it will connect with the Capital Corridor System and, presumably, Amtrack, connecting it with the rest of the nation. This is intended to also address the commuter traffic that now clogs Highway 37. The Hwy 37 causeway between Sears Point and Vallejo is sinking into the mud and, while temporary fixes are being made, it needs an entire rebuild, if not a raised causeway on pilings. There's lots of environmental issues with all that which the state wants to avoid. A smaller, less impactful project on Hwy 37 is possible if the old NWP ROW between the Ignacio Wye and the Napa River bridge (Brazos) can be employed for SMART commuter service. This is now a big priority for the State. SMART's success and amazing public acceptance has now gotten the State's attention and the money is expected to flow better than in the past. This initial planning, while obvious to anybody familiar with the commute patterns, was only on SMART's long-range radar. The State was the one that asked SMART to begin the planning process.

As for freight, it looks like the NCRA will be dissolved and their function, "preserving rail access on the old NWP ROW," will be passed on to SMART. SMART's GM says he and the SMART board are 100% committed to supporting and expanding freight services if and when that administrative transfer is accomplished. The GM says that the night freight operations are working very well and they want to expand freight service north to accommodate customers on the ROW. He mentioned that there is a lot of industry, existing and potential, north of Santa Rosa. There certainly didn't seem to be any "anti-freight" bias from SMART at all.  Presumably, the existing freight contractor would continue to operate the freight end. NWP Co. at present only has a single engine equipped with PTC. A more active freight operation is going to require PTC-equipped freight engines.

After expanding north to Windsor, SMART's next goal will be extending to Healdsburg and thereafter north to ultimately Cloverdale. Given the NCRA transfer to SMART, working north will likely result, at least for freight. (There's talk in Sacramento of passing the northern end of the old NWP ROW to Caltrans or some other State agency for trails and "rail banking," but where the cut off might be is speculative, as is the whether Caltrans or whoever would be interested in it anyway.

SMART's GM noted that a lot of the passenger traffic already, especially on weekends,  is tourists going to the Sonoma Wine Country and Petaluma's and Santa Rosa's Historic Districts.  Surveys there indicate a large uptick in tourists and restaurant patrons coming in on the SMART trains. SMART realizes that this traffic is bound to increase substantially when the line reaches Healdsburg, another major tourist destination.

All in all, SMART seems to be far more successful that even SMART itself ever imagined and they are working double-time to accommodate the ridership volume they are experiencing and expect to increase in the future.

So very glad to read this Bob.

I'm fairly certain the documents stated the cutoff point was Willits.  Everything North of Willits will be transferred to Caltrans, while everything South of Willits will be transferred to SMART.

the old 101 crossing a couple miles N of downtown Willetts has been gone for over a year along w/ a stretch of ROW North of the (removed) crossing that had crossed small industry access. ROW South of the former crossing is probably intact thru to the comparatively large NWP yards N of the E/W main drag & NWP depot that seems to still be in use by the city & Skunk Train. looks like the logical dividing point would be at the old 101 or close to it.

Great report, Bob!  Thank you!

Bob,

You said that, "BIG NEWS: The $1M that came with the $20M is for initial engineering planning for expansion of the SMART east  to connect to the national rail system at Suisun City or Fairfield where it will connect with the Capital Corridor System and, presumably, Amtrack [sic], connecting it with the rest of the nation."

I find this most interesting.  Is this still cooking on the back burner or what?

The implication of this may mean that someday long after I'm dead and gone (and maybe even after my kids are gone) that Amtrak California (Caltrans) might be able to replace their Martinez-Eureka bus with a passenger train!

I know, I know, crazy idea. 

I'd like to say here that this group is kind of liberal as to allowing the posting of NWP-related companies and NWP tracks as they exist today.  I have seen some railroad history forums that do not allow that.  I think that's wrong.  I like the way you are doing that here.  The NWP still exists - it's just in a different form.  

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

As far as I know, Fred, the study of extending SMART east via the existing ROW to the national passenger train system is still in the works.  It's not a crazy idea. It makes perfect sense from a transit planning perspective.

Bob,

I agree.  But the "crazy idea" I came up with was the possibility of a running a through passenger train from the San Francisco Bay Area to Eureka.  Fun to dream about, though.

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

That could become more of a hot issue as the Napa County SMART BoD rep was just elected to the position of board Vice Chair to replace MTC Jake.

Fred:  this site was getting a little sleepy, so I'm glad you came along to add your thoughts and recollections as it has sparked some very good discussion, bringing some long time contributors out of the woodwork.

As you recognize, this site doesn't pretend to be pure when it comes to the subject of NWP, although there have been those that have come along and criticized when members have posted material they have deemed "unrelated" to the NWP, a completely subjective measure.  I don't think there's anything wrong about discussing SMART (which breathed new life into the NWP RoR), CFNR, or countless other railroads and transit systems, and the myriad topics that relate to railroads.  I find almost all of it interesting.

My question for you is, why the "U.S. 66" sign for your picture?  Highways are essentially the antithesis of railroads, contributing to the demise of many shortlines, and some of us don't need the reminder.  I'm not trying to impose any form of purity, but I would kindly suggest replacing that graphic with something having a bit more of a railroadie theme.  The internet is full of images.  This is just a suggestion.   :)

Dave,

I think that was a good post and you raised some interesting issues.  First of all, I am glad if I was able to perk up participation on the group just a little bit.  You see, one problem with these groups is that they have encountered extreme competition from other so-called “social media” especially facebook.  I don’t know if this forum has people who have deserted us for facebook or not but I belonged to some other groups that were once very active and are now completely dead.

You asked about my interest in U.S. 66.  Although railroads have always been my main passion, I tend to have a concern over the abandonment of any transportation system which I perceive might’ve been premature, unfortunate and short sighted.  So it is with Route 66.  The official “66” U.S. route designation was “decommissioned” by AASHTO in 1985. Then the familiar roadside route markers came down and the icons were removed from American road atlases.  I thought it most unfortunate that an American icon like that could be so easily discarded.

So, I established a website devoted to bringing the U.S. Route designation back. If anyone wants to look at that site you can find it by simply doing a web search for “Bring Back Route 66”.

However, your point that my icon would be more appropriate if it were a rail-related icon is a good one.  Point taken.  My only issue is that I’m a bit paranoid about using someone else’s image.  I don’t know if I can just use one on the web if the rights to it are tied up somehow.  If you find one that you are 100% sure would be safe to use, I’m fine with that.

The U.S. 66 image I have is my own.  I hired an artist many years ago to make it for me.  He was inspired by the U.S. route shields that are in current use by Caltrans.  California is the ONLY state that is still using a U.S. route  marker like that.  NWP fans can clearly see them when they drive along U.S. 101.

I’d love to see U.S. 66 brought back but I’d love to see trains running through the Eel River Canyon even more.  Both may someday come to pass but just not in my lifetime.

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

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