Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network

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Will the Northern Section of this railroad ever run again?

I was thinking about the railroads current status up to Willits, and i came across a question i'd like to ask, Is it even possible to repair the line up to Dos Rios? It seems like that section of track is still in good condition, it just needs a clean up, and maybe some new ties.
About the other tracks going north, just leave them until they are repaired, or until someone comes along, and fixes it for a tourist railroad. I know there is already a group trying to have a tourist railroad on the northern end, but I have heard nothing from it yet, it seems like no progress has happened, I may be wrong on that. I know a few of you are probably going to ask why this railroad should be repaired, I would like to see some freight trains moving up and down the line once again, like they did before FRA shut the line down for good.  I also feel that it would help put some business back Eureka and the cities surrounding it, that area seems kind of dead, and run down. Also, is the balloon track turn table still there?

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I think restoring service up to Willits is somewhat feasible, provided that there is business up there. North to Eureka however, that I think is not going to make a comeback. As most of the people on this forum know, the Eel River Canyon was named one of the most expensive to maintain railroad mainlines in the USA in its heyday. Yes, not just in the state, but in the country! There would have to be a substantial number of customers to serve, and profits to be made, to justify anything touching that rail again. Even just getting it back up to mainline standards would be expensive in and of itself. Some spots are so badly washed out that you'd have to build a brand new bridge over the gap that was once solid land. Bottom line: I think Willits is a reasonable goal provided there's money to be made, but I don't see money to be made in the Eel River Canyon. Take my thoughts how you want, but that's my 2 cents...

I'd expect that there'd be money to be made in the Eel River Canyon if 1) They resumed aggregate quarry operations at Island Mountain, and 2) if the Port of Humboldt could ship piggy-back container consists eastward. 

I like both of the two options listed here, Island Mountain was still in good shape the last time I saw it, I figure we  still could run trains on it, if the line was repaired, and they could ship the stuff from the quarry southward to Willits or another city on the mainline.

My personal opinion is no. Alot of the major freight and lumber companies are happy using highwaty 128 I believe to get thier products to the valley faster by days than using rail. The big problem with the nwp is that is way too slow to be efficient. Right now it takes a day to go from Windsor to Napa then a day to roseville and then at least a day to Reno and further east. A truck can be from willits to Reno in the same day. Efficiency and speed is the key and the California northern really holds the nwp up. It was efficient when SP ran the line because you just switched crews and it kept going. The only way to rebuild the line North would be to get customers to transload in Windsor and prove that thier is business further north. We always hear about potential customers but until they ship on the line it dosent mean anything.

I see what you mean, the highways are a lot faster, and SP did run it better, although i prefer the railroad over tractor trailers.

Today is all about speed. How fast can it get there so you can make a buck. It's one reason the dedicated intermoadal trains are such a hit at up and bnsf. It dosent stop other than crew changes and gets there faster than a truck.
The thing about highway 128 is that it's kinda like the Panama canal. Why go all the way around South America and travel hundreds of more miles when you can cut time and miles off with a shortcut.

Carl:

This is hearsay but I was under the impression that the G&W had improved the service of the Calif. Northern since they took over.  And the demand for lumber is more south rather than east to Roseville which of course means a connection to UP southbound still via Cal Northern.

Redwood empire in Asti was transhipping via Windsor but from recent pictures of NWP freight loads, I haven't seen any centerbeams.  The old NWP RoW runs right by their yard and would be a direct connection if service were provided north of Windsor.  Has NWP lost that biz? 

Will NWP even be running on the old line anymore? Or has SMART taken over all of the NWP tracks? Personally I don't mind SMART, but when will NWP start hauling regular loads again up to Willits and all of those cities?

While restoration of the Eel River Canyon section would take hundreds of millions of dollars (though significantly less than the cost of building a highway anywhere that would carry the same freight,) due to the decades of no maintenance, I consider the "most expensive to maintain ROW in the nation" argument likely specious.  In its day, the practice was to build cheaply and repair cheaply as needed.  Labor was cheap and SP was even cheaper!  But the original ROW was built with "pick and shovel" technology in the early 1900's.  It is my guess that modern engineering technology would overcome most, if not all, the geological challenges.  It's one thing to "just throw some more rip-rap down" and re-lay a few hundred feet of track every time there's a washout, and quite another to build a concrete drainage system to divert the problem or a steel bridge to span it once and for all.  So far, I haven't found any engineering data to confirm this, but it certainly makes sense when we consider how much infrastructure has been affordably built in the last 50 or 75 years where previously it was considered "impossible to build anything." 

Bob:

You are spot on about today's railbuilding technology as well as about the SP attitude.  If you look at how railroads are built in other countries you will see major changes.  This could come to the NWP if the NCRA would get off its axx and do some planning and lobbying.

No question that the NCRA could use a shot in the arm, or perhaps in the pocketbook, but I think we have to give credit where it's due.  No sooner was the NCRA created "to ensure continuation of railroad service in Northwestern California and ... (play) a significant role in the transportation infrastructure serving a vital part of the State that suffers from restricted access and limited transport options" than Governor Deukmejian vetoed the funding bill that was to provide it with the operating capital to accomplish that goal.  They've nonetheless gotten operations going as far north as Santa Rosa and also dealt with managing a considerable amount of ancillary real estate, while fighting environmental enforcement issues all along the way, all without a dime of external funding as yet.  Given the High-speed Rail project which seems to be getting priority in Sacramento these days, and the State's financial difficulties in recent times, a large lump of cash falling into their laps isn't too promising a prospect. The NCRA consists of nine part-time board members, an executive director, and a part-time lawyer.  They've done a lot with nothing.  Compounding the problem is the fact that the area the NCRA serves isn't particularly populous, especially at the northern end and so it doesn't have the political clout in Sacramento that more populous areas of the state do.

When you look at the musings of those on this forum, who are far more knowledgeable than most about railroads, I still see a surprising lack of understanding about the economics of running one. (And I'm not suggesting that I have any special knowledge in that area myself, except to have had a father who spent his life as an accountant in the maritime shipping industry.)  Rail transport today is all about bulk freight and/or long distances.  I think that well positions NWP operations to succeed from Eureka south.  We are presently importing aggregate from as far away as British Columbia and off-loading to barges and then to shore (e.g. Dutra's local operations) because we don't have enough local quarry capacity to meet demand.  Reopening the Island Mountain quarry would provide much needed material throughout Northern California economically shipped by rail, albeit a short distance.  On the other hand, US West Coast intermodal container handling capacity is "maxed out."  (We're shipping containers by rail north through Mexico from Ensenada and Manzanillo because we don't have the ability to handle it here.)  The Port of Humboldt has recently been dredged with federal funds to accommodate the larger container ships, and has plenty of adjacent land to build a container terminal.  There is no place else left to build another container terminal.  Eureka is significantly closer to Asian ports than any other port on the US West Coast, which makes it highly competitive because "time is money" in the maritime industry.  With the overhead clearance in the tunnels increased to accommodate double-stacked container flatcars, NWP could be hauling thousands of containers to the connection with the US rail system and become a very profitable operation.  At present, the only "kink in the hose" is restoring the line to Eureka.  This is an issue not just for providing rail service to northwestern California, but it's really an issue for interstate commerce nationally.  Unfortunately, it seems the voices of Eureka are too few and too far away for Sacramento, let alone Washington DC, to hear.

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