Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network

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Seeing the usual bitching in the letters section of the local papers about Smart seriously has me annoyed as hell. To use cynical and backwards terms like "train to nowhere" (which is retarded on the face of it) is an insult to the many thousands of people who live along the 101 corridor that's going to be effected by it, either directly or indirectly. In reflection of former days when they had to install track in virgin wilderness in which case you can call it a train to nowhere, literally, the idea was to open up areas for exploitation and development.

As anyone who has wasted too much of his/her life on the highway parking lot called 101, alternative methods of transportation utilizing wasted areas of abandoned rail makes a hell of a lot of sense, despite the scary initial capital requirements to bring the line up to snuff, which seems like a tiny drop in the ocean of high finance Ponzi schemes that allow for our communities and institutions to be ripped of by jet-setting pin stripped gangsters. Meanwhile, small minded cretins bitch over a few pennies.

It may seem cynical, but where are the folks who were proud that we put a man on the moon and did things that didn't involve your pocketbook? The philisophical legacy of the ME! ME! ME! generation is disgusting. <\soapbox mode off>

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Comment by Bob Cleek on August 29, 2012 at 5:05pm

"Small minded cretins?"  You're too kind!  I have less regard for the voting public, myself.  Anyway, being as I've followed the NCRA and SMART for a lotta years now, I'll weigh in.

SMART suffered from bad planning and bad management in its early evolutions and is now still paying the public relations price for that.  Unfortunately, nobody ever explained the only justification for building an INTERURBAN transit system in Marin and Sonoma when they were trying to get the voters to approve funding.  (And the Recession added its own level of complexity.)  SMART's hired political consultants came up with all sorts of pie-in-the-sky promises.  The stupidest of all, of course, was the promise of a bicycle path the whole length of the right of way.  Hello?  What was that supposed to cost and for what benefit?  The purpose was to lure the "what's in it for me" crowd, particularly in Marin, and to give the concept a "green" image, which IMHO is BS from the git-go.  Another huge illusion was that SMART was going to be some kind of light-rail streetcar line that people could jump on and ride for a few blocks and jump off.  That was never going to be possible.

SMART is, however, an essential infrastructure improvement and one that is dirt cheap relative to most any others, primarily because the SMART District owned the right of way to begin with.  if that ROW had to be purchased, the price of the system would have been impossible to pay.  However, SMART only makes sense as a very long term investment and I doubt if it will ever reach its potential in my now-60+ year lifetime.  SMART is only a start of what will eventually become a somewhat high speed transit system similar in function to BART, linked to SF via the Larkspur Ferry system and to the East Bay and the Vacaville-Davis-Sacramento corridor via a connection across Highway 37 to BART and the heavy rail mainlines. 

The answer to the question, "Who's going to ride it?" is "They aren't here yet."  This is a sociological fact of life:  Population growth follows transit systems, not the other way around.  A "train to nowhere" quickly becomes a "train to somewhere" because "nowhere" is always a cheaper place to live than yesterday's "somewhere."  Capice?  SMART running to the Ukiah area will inevitably draw commuters to move to Ukiah were they can afford a nicer home and quality of living than they can in, say, San Rafael, or even Santa Rosa.  They only do that because they can take SMART from Ukiah to San Rafael or wherever else they work.  Nobody's going to ride SMART much from Novato to San Rafael or Petaluma to Novato, but Ukiah to Petaluma or San Rafael, oh yea.  The "no development" naysayers can't wrap their heads around the reality that 1) you can't stop growth (or the railroad!) 2) people are going to have to live somewhere, so if you give them more space to spread their wings down the SMART line, "development pressure" is relieved.

More people means more commerce and more money and a better quality of life for a community and for a region.  When you follow the "Marin Model" and try to stifle growth at any cost, you end up with the same problem that exists where available developable land is "built out."... everything gets a lot more expensive and a lot more crowded, but not a lot more better.  I'm not promoting rampant development that changes the character of our existing communities, but rather only pointing out that interurban transit systems expand the availability of housing without crowding.

That said, it will be years and years of deficit operation before the communities SMART serves "grow into" the system.  LIke any other place where transit systems have pushed into the hinterlands, once that happens, people quickly realize they can't live without it. (Consider the history of SF's extending streetcar lines through the Twin Peaks Tunnel west to where there was, at the time, little but sand dunes, or the near instant gentrification of the Bay View district when Muni extended out Third Street.)  If California's metropolitan areas are to survive, it is essential that transit move from a private transiit freeway model to a public transit rail model.  We need to build a system similar to what has long served all other metropolitan areas, such as Manhattan, London, Paris and so on.  I really don't think SMART will have a lot of problems in the future because when they run out of room, and money, to widen freeways, there isn't going to be any competition between using public transit and sitting in traffic for two or three hours.  Anybody who is familiar with Manhattan knows that nobody in their right mind drives into Manhattan on a work day.  Even when you arrive, there's no place to park your car!

The strongest oppositon to SMART are the same handful of slick operating eco-fascists that have bedeviled NCRA/NWP.  They call themselves "The Friends of the Eel River."  Their agenda is to see that nothing whatsoever is built in this "wild and scenic treasure."  Hey, I love nature and the wilderness as much as the next guy, but I'm not about to apply a tourniquet to the economic artery of the North Coast just because a train whistle might disturb some imaginary endangered Bigfoot's mating rituals.  These people, such as Mike Arnold, are "true believers" who sincerely are convinced they are "doing the right thing."  Thank them for conning the twits on the Novato City Council into roadblocking NWP.  (I work in downtown Novato.  I've seen the new NWP roll through town TWICE and, hey, I'm looking for it every day.  I've never heard a train whistle, either.  So much for all the ballyhoo about "stinky diesels" and "quiet zones."  The hand wringers turned out to be maybe a half dozen loudmouths, but that was enough to cause weak politicians to spend hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars on "studies" and "lawsuits to nowhere."

As for the NWP, the sooner it expands its range north, the better for the railroad and the better for the North Coast.  Sure, the logging industry isn't what it once was, but there's a lot of gravel in them thar hills.  I wonder how the "carbon footprint" of Dutra's having to import our aggregate from British Columbia by sea, off loading and trucking it all over the North Bay compares to bringing it down by rail from Island Mountain?  We already know the difference in cost between offloading a semi-truck full of feed grain in the Central Valley and hauling it to Petaluma or bringing it in directly by rail!

So what's to be done?  It certainly would help if the more sensible folks would speak up and tell the eco-fascists and nervous nellies to just shut up and sit down.  I don't think there's been nearly enough of that, not just on this issue, but on a lot of others.

If we can just get them to "stuff a rag in it,"  we can start focusing on the important things, like getting a big, smokey, stinky coal burning steam locomotive excursion service running regularly on the NWP!

Comment by Andrew F. Laverdiere on August 29, 2012 at 11:01am
In the 1870's, when they built the North Pacific Coast RR, how many people lived along its route, especially in the northern sections? How long was that a working concern despite a very sparse population?
Comment by Lawrence LaBranche on August 29, 2012 at 9:28am

I cannot see SMART being an epic fail. While it would be nice to have more experience on the board, how many other public agencies have railroad experience when they started?

10+  for Keith's comment.

I get tired of people blaming the railroad, yet steal our water, illegal land clearing and use banned poisons killing endangered species to support their dope habit.

Comment by Jordan on August 28, 2012 at 10:54pm

I never said I oppose passenger rail or subsidizing transit. I ride passenger trains all the time. Capitol Corridor, BART, and Caltrain all receive my patronage VERY frequently. I admire the fact that countries like France and Japan support their rail systems and in turn have some of the best passenger trains in the world.

I am very vocal about my opposition to smart because I WANT a good, reliable passenger rail system in the north bay, but looking into the agency's plans and their actions thus far, plus some of the people they have on the board (the NOvato city council woman  who refused to hear any facts and kept opposing NCRA/NWP and voted against restarting freight operations for example) I'm afraid it's just going to be a big epic fail, unless they start some major overhauling, right now.

You do bring up a good point though, as I too am none too pleased at the way we can't get anything done in a timely manner anymore, if at all. Just look at the new Bay Bridge.

Comment by Lawrence LaBranche on August 28, 2012 at 9:19pm

My point, is more to that we at least get something with SMART.

With Katrina, we should of rebuilt it back then. Now it is harder to do. Imaging though, if you built up sections at a time. Move out, things as necessary, build it up. The problem is utilities. I guess build up the sewer plant first. Use a massive pumping to until things get done. Being an old city, the utilities probably need replacement anyhow. If nothing else, build up the sections closest to the levies first. That would make the levies four-hundred or more feet thick.  No way they would be breached then.

It aggravates me, that we cannot build big projects anymore. I think we need a massive investment in passenger rail.

I wonder if it would be good to create a massive network of desalination plants and pipes to supply the heartland, etc with good water. It would keep crops going, jobs, replenish the aquifers, and the leftover would keep barges running.

Comment by Andrew F. Laverdiere on August 28, 2012 at 7:07pm
I really don't get comparing a national tax revenue collection agency with a two county light rail authority, beyond making meaningless blanket statements that just justify my original complaint about people who can't think above the belt-line. I could just as easily point to nearly every one of the biggest financial institutions in the US and Europe that have collectively vaporized untold trillions in speculative gambling instruments while starving the traditional industrial base and outsourcing to cheap labor elsewhere while facilitating drug money laundering and terrorism.

Why justify the money on New Orleans?

Not a bad idea Lawrence. However, it would take something akin to Franklin Roosevelts use of Federal credit through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to be able to relocate an entire city that way. It would certainly be a serious boost to the area economy.
Comment by jbriogrande on August 28, 2012 at 3:05pm

 Good material LL......Makes good sense to me.  You are right on.....

Comment by Lawrence LaBranche on August 28, 2012 at 2:40pm
  • There is a sort of enthusiasm in all projectors, absolutely necessary for their affairs, which makes them proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, the most shocking insults; and, what is severer than all, the presumptuous judgement of the ignorant upon their designs.
    • An account of the European Settlements in America (1757), pp. 19-20, in The Works of Edmund Burke in Nine Volumes, Vol. IX. Boston: Little, Brown, 1839.
    • It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare.
      • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769).

      "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

      Edmund Burke

Comment by Lawrence LaBranche on August 28, 2012 at 2:31pm

I accidentally deleted my post.

Not a single transportation can function without some sort of government help, even monetary.

IRS lost two to five billion worth due to ID fraud. Worse, the IRS cannot prevent most of it from reoccurring.

We spent over fourteen billion to strengthen New Orleans against another disaster. Huge pumps, and walls. Why move what was left to someplace that was not a swamp? Personally, they should of filled the place with dirt 100' higher than the current walls, compacted it real well, and rebuilt on top of that. Then you could of used a new thing called gravity to drain the water.

About SMART, it was only 1/4 cent sales tax. What more did you want? Is it perfect? No. Do we have to bring up in every discussion about SMART potential short comings so we are not label blind cheerleaders? I do worry about the amount of spurs being taken out. However SMART is doing well. We are getting a better system than we could of hoped that benefits freight. The heart burn the Petaluma barge operators had with the narrow bridge will be gone, with a better bridge, faster open/close, new concrete ties, rail, crossings, crossing signals, revamped roadbed, and new equipment to watch. What more do you want with all the opposition?

Comment by jbriogrande on August 28, 2012 at 8:31am

 Mr. LaBranche is making good sense.  It is interesting to note how many members of this forum seem to be experts on what can be expected from SMART.  I would imagine that they have been given inside information on what can be expected as far as ridership and business.  Having no 'rails' on the SMART board is fine.  The current folks can pan the Capitol Corridor or anywhere else for that matter to help them along on their journey forward.

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