Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network

Dedicated to Sharing the Heritage of Redwood Empire Railroading

Long time friends of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network.

Many times as a non-resident I have enjoined you locals to write letters in support of our railroad.  I have written about NWP hauling freight that previously was carried by trucks that were overloading hiway 101.

Now I am a resident of Sonoma Cty and realize that the 101 traffic problem is worse than I expected with heavy trucks being a large part of that problem.

But to me as a Sonoma Cty resident and avid bicyclist, I have discovered a new existential threat to the NWP as some have written here.  The local bicycle coalition is pushing their members to write letters to Gov. Brown supporting SB 1029.  See this: https://www.bikesonoma.org/great-redwood-trail-approved-by-senate-y... 

Their goal is honorable to support more bicycle pathways but shortsighted in that they are also pushing the Gov to have (not) SMART become the freight provider on the NWP RoW.

We all know how unSMART (like blind) they are to hauling freight and not re-installing spurs to handle same to get the trucks off of 101.

I plan to apply/run for a seat on the SMART Board but that may be too late as I am unknown and a newbee here now.

The Bicycle Coalition is encouraging their members to write the Gov to push him to fully implement SB 1029 @ Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Governor of California
State Capitol, 1st Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814.

I'm strongly suggesting that if you love the NWP, to write to this same address and as a rail advocate both passenger and freight, and tell him that SMART MUST not be the freight option on the line.  While I have no connection I have seen that NWP is set up to provide the freight service needed for the counties but have been stymied by SMARTS limitations for spurs.

We all want to see the NWP prosper but it won't with this SB1029 bill.

Mark does not want me to provide my email but just reply to this discussion and I will respond.  We up here need to pull together to keep the new NWP operating.  Write to the Gov.

Richard

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  First let me say that I'm on your side. But there is a big But that you are missing. The time to rally for or against this bill has passed. The Governor signed this bill into law on September 29th, 2018. As for running for a seat on the board I got your back. Your voice needs to be heard.

Richard you are right.  I was reading the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition w-site and saw their encouraging their readers to write the Gov to sign.  I was out of the country when he signed and unfortunately did not see the date of their post.

But where is the funding for SMART to pull that off?

 There is 4 million dollars in the bill to buy out NWP railroad. Is that enough? No one really knows. This bill terminates the NCRA and orders that authority to shut down. As for the future keep your eyes and ears open. You could talk to the author of this bill, state senator Maguire.

I have been told by SMART's General Manager that SMART is strongly committed to preserving and expanding freight rail on their ROW and, knowing him personally, I have no reason to doubt his word. There's lots of money and government funding available for freight rail and SMART will take it wherever it can get it.

NWP Co. has a contract to carry freight on the SMART ROW and that isn't likely to change, IMHO. It's a good deal for NWP Co. and they took the capital risk when they stepped up and made that contract with NCRA. I doubt they are about to just walk away from the payoff. We'll just have to wait and see. I'm guessing NWP Co. will continue with their long-term contract as a freight contractor and partner with SMART as they have been doing.

SMART took a fair amount of heat about not wanting to preserve every turnout on their ROW when they rebuilt it on their dime. The number of turnouts that SMART was obligated to retain was limited by negotiated contract and there was indeed some dispute about which ones would be replaced and which ones would not. Some attributed this to SMART's desire to limit freight operations, but that wasn't the case at all. Many turnouts had been essentially abandoned during the time prior to NWP Co. operations commencing. Whether they would ever be used again was uncertain at that time. SMART was obligated to install and maintain new switching equipment when they laid their new track and each new turnout switch represented an initial cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The new switches would have to be compliant with the ATC system and would see heavy traffic with the commuter runs. Each switch was going to be an ongoing maintenance liability and experience higher than average wear rates because of the frequency of the DMU traffic over them. SMART had good reason not to want to simply replace every turnout on the line at their expense. It really didn't have anything to do with trying to prevent freight traffic at all. It was just about the money.

The new bill doesn't just hand SMART the freight oversight. It also requires SMART to assume NCRA's mandate to promote freight service and accommodate customers. The bill's provisions extend to Willits, far beyond SMART's presently projected terminus at Cloverdale, in Mendocino County, and that's telling, I think. There's more freight business to be had between Petaluma and Willits. SMART realizes that this is a "profit center" for SMART and I don't see them turning their back on it at all. Once freight revenues reach the threshold set in the NWP Co. contract, dividends start flowing to SMART. It's in SMART's interest to encourage freight, not stonewall it.

Boom, Bob just roasted everybody. 

I tend to agree, I find it hard to believe that, even when young, SMART was trying to force out NWP. The only argument I can’t fight is the intentional aligning of the gauntlet tracks with the platforms but that seemed more of an “oops” then an actual offensive on freight. 

Another piece of the reasoning for disconnecting old spurs was speed, the more switches the less fast passenger  trains could go.

Also, it was interesting to listen to the businesses that were upset with SMART a few years ago for removing spurs because most of them had a solid two years to restart their rail service before construction began and didn’t... at least thats how it appears from the outside. Those same companies from the Press Democrat articles upset about disconnecting spurs, as far as I know, still have not resumed their rail service at all. 

What I do hope is some of the good guys from the NCRA are able to get on board SMART, so to speak, or that SMART puts it’s new freight service in a different division.. Having true railroaders who know the area, the people, and the historical shortcomings and successes of all the previous incarnations of the NWP will allow a safer and bright future for freight. 

I think we are on the same page, Chad. I'd add a couple of observations, since this all speculation on our parts anyhow.

It's likely many customers who were no longer using their turnouts had entered into long-term contracts with trucking companies when rail service ceased. Those are usually five year exclusive contracts. They would have had to let those run their course before switching back to a rail freight contract. That caused the NWP Co. start-up to appear slow and not promising. NWP Co. expected that and stayed the course. Other customers, of course, have been seemingly slow to embrace rail freight services. Perhaps this was because of uncertainty regarding the long-term dependability of service availability. Let's not forget in times past they had likely experienced the sputtering demise of freight service on the line and were more comfortable "dancing with the girl they brought."

SMART's "second generation" management is light years ahead of the dimwits amateurs that first attempted to run it. I'd be really surprised if SMART would presume to get into the freight business from ground zero by itself. They already have a good working relationship with NWP Co., or so it seems.

I also scratched my head about the gauntlet track placement. If the original management knew what they were doing, they would have ordered ground-level-boarding DMUs and the gauntlet tracks never would have been necessary. I think they set them up the way they did, requiring the freight traffic to switch around the stations was simply because that would occasion far fewer switching evolutions per switch. Switches require maintenance and replacement in direct proportion to how often they are operated. If the DMUs in frequent commute service switched over to the platform every time they came to a station, the switches would wear out much faster.

I could be wrong, but that made sense to me.

Chad wrote: "the more switches the less fast passenger trains could go."  Not true Chad and all you have to do is ride Amtrak, Ace or CalTrain to experience.  They all run at 79 mph over those switches.  They do require some frequent maintenance.

Bob as you describe and as I have posted previously the truckers do not want to give up their contracts whether profitable or not and this is why I have written here so many times that this is a political issue for residents.  We won't get the HD dual trailered trucks off of 101 until there is

a large tariff put onto these large dual trucks.  I have found that Sonoma Cty is suffering from too many roads and a lack of funding to maintain them.  No doubt that our county has to provide some funding for maintenance of Cal State 101 pummeled by trucks.

Forcing freight onto rail would reduce the county's burden for 101 maintenance and help provide financing for our secondary and tertiary roads.

My "roast"

Richard now in Santa Rosa

Hey Bob.  Always appreciate your postings because you provide so much insight on what is happening on the RoW.  This post is no exception and again I appreciate the included detail.

But I'd like to know more about what you write "The number of turnouts that SMART was obligated to retain was limited by negotiated contract".  My ex-local railroad which also has to implement ATC on a limited budget and has many switches because 1) they are dual tracked with many cross overs and 2) UP requires many switch-off spurs for freight delivery on their Peninsula line.  

Did Mansourian provide any further details on the issue of their installing/maintaining switches for freight?  Russian River Brewery has just opened a new huge brewery on the west side of Windsor and will need a lot of grain.  On this site we all know the issue of Lagunitas as a new customer celebrated on the NWP Holiday card but now lost because SMART would not provide the necessary spur switch to have hoppers brought directly into their property. 

Bob:  Since you know the GM personally can I ask you to have him identify how his government entity (now mine too) SMART will accommodate today's freight requirements like Lagunitas and RR Brewing?

Truckers are aggressive and will fight to maintain their biz.  If you watch local TV you will see on ABC 7 how a crazy driver unsuccessfully pushed his truck west out of Hopland on a narrow road to make his delivery and ended up 200+ feet down a ravine.

Bob: If you get Mansourian I will get John Williams CEO together to iron this out.  I'm now via the local sales tax paying a lot into the SMART coffers which I do support.  But I also have to drive 101 to get back to see my family and committed to getting some of the big rigs hauling freight off of 101 .

We can connect via a private email if you wish.  I'm just off of Piner Rd. on the west side.   

Richard, I've never had any communication with Mr. Mansourian about the turnout switches. That was a well-publicized issue at the time it arose. When rebuilding the ROW, SMART was required to preserve turnouts to spurs on private property. They were not required to preserve turnouts to unused abandoned spurs. There were a specific number identified that SMART was required to replace and maintain. The installation of a switch and spur represents a substantial investment by the private property owner. When it came to reactivating previously abandoned turnouts, and whether they were to be added to the list of "must retain" switches SMART had to pay for, some property owners didn't want to "pay the freight," as it were.

I'm sure SMART will address "how SMART will accommodate freight requirements" when that time comes. I would anticipate that SMART will do so consistent with the mandate of the newly passed legislation. I never "back channel" lobby people I know who work in government. I just don't take advantage of social connections in that way.

Similarly, I cannot imagine how Mr. Mansourian and Mr. Williams, or anyone associated with their entities, could possibly need our assistance in "ironing this out," whatever "this" may be. The cooperative operation of a tax-supported public transit agency and a for-profit private freight hauling business to achieve their differing and common goals while sharing the same infrastructure is a complex task to be sure. From all indications, they have the matter well in hand and both seem to be doing a rather good job of it. The last thing that contributes to the success of joint passenger and rail operations in the North Bay, or anywhere else for that matter, is political pressure from gadflies and special interest groups. The interesting topics we are discussing here are, in the grand scheme of things, really "micromanagement" subjects.

As for another issue near and dear to the hearts of us all, the condition of the roads and highways, Caltrans seems to have Highway 101 well in hand. The completion of the "Narrows" construction project, one of the largest in Caltrans history, will do much to alleviate traffic congestion... for a few years. The state budget takes care of 101, not the county. Sonoma County roads are in terrible condition for a number of reasons. Primarily, county government has not budgeted sufficiently to maintain them and deferred maintenance has gotten far ahead of them. Many of the county's "back roads" were constructed long, long ago, often by simply laying asphalt on top of dirt and gravel horse and wagon paths.  Many of these roads were never engineered to carry the eighteen wheelers that now haul hay, grain, milk, and eggs over these country roads on a daily basis. It's really not likely that Sonoma County is ever going to have the money to tear these roads up and lay state of the art concrete roadways throughout the county. I'm afraid that's just the way it is on the road west.

 

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