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What if the tracks from Ukiah to Willits were restored to make way for a scenic railway?

Is that possible? Ukiah to Willits is very scenic. Maybe even Cloverdale to Willits, with intermediate stops in Hopland and Ukiah.

Scotia to McKinleyville also might make a good scenic railway.

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So, the potential of various parts of the line for tourist railroading has been discussed from time to time here before.  In all reality, you're asking the wrong question- yes, it's possible.  The real question should be is it economic and sustainable, and more to the point from where do you get the money to make it happen. 

Excursion/scenic railroads in all reality are in the entertainment business.  In today's world they have to share some form of experience that enough members of the public find attractive enough to invest their discretionary dollars as compared to other available attractions.  To do that you really need several things off the bat- an experience worth selling, to be sure, but more to the point things like easy to find, adequate parking, and perhaps most importantly clean and well stocked bathrooms.  

The real problems come with financing.  Railroads are not a cheap business.  Fixing the tracks is the first hurdle, that can easily run into the many hundreds of thousands of dollars or more per mile.  Locomotives and passenger equipment are an obvious must have, and once again you can easily expect to invest $150,000 or more into each diesel locomotive or passenger car.  Passenger cars typically require substantial additional restoration work that can often times exceed the purchase price.  If you want steam power you're typically looking at easily a half million or more to get something in working order.  You also have to then consider some form of a shop or other work space to maintain equipment, plus tools.  Add to that some form of operational base, parking lots, bathrooms, landscaping, etc.  And then there's the other costs- fuel, marketing, insurance, employees, licensing and permitting, safety, and a whole other list of things that cost money.  Bottom line, just the up front capital costs can easily run well into the millions of dollars before you ever turn a wheel, and then once up and running you have to generate enough cash flow to both recover those up front costs and then maintain tracks, equipment, and facilities.  It's a tall order to just cover direct costs when running excursion trains, much less cover anything else.  

I can see plenty of potential issues with the various track sections you list.  Ukiah to Willits is scenic, yes, but are you really offering something that people can't already get on the Skunk Train?  Plus, that's an awful lot of up and down railroading that will cost a lot more in fuel and pose a number of other operational problems.  And there are a number of large washouts and some extensive fire damage that has to be fixed on that stretch.  Extending service down south adds a lot of mileage over some very difficult and expensive to maintain trackage, and pretty quickly takes you to at least half day if not full day trips.  As for the second segment you list, Scotia to McKinleyville.... first off, haven't been rails in McKinleyville since Georgia Pacific scrapped out their logging railroad in 1961, north Arcata is as far as tracks are intact right now.  Trying to run anything out of Scotia requires rebuilding the railroad across the Scotia Bluffs and then maintaining that, which is one very expensive piece of railroading to maintain.  

The one piece of the NWP that I could easily see being a good tourist railroad is the stretch around Humboldt Bay, from Samoa through Arcata to Eureka.  This is exactly what Timber Heritage Association has been trying to accomplish for several decades now.  They have the locomotives and rolling stock, what they need is the capital to rebuild both it and the tracks for service and develop the other needed facilities, which will cost a lot of money and require a lot of people and agencies to work together to make it happen.  

Those are my thoughts.  

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV 

Would be great but money comes to mind of course.

  An interesting thought.....however, I would assume that the most important question might be:  How profitable and scenic would the routes be during the Winter months????

If it snows in the Mendocino County mountains, it might be very scenic. If not, it would look the same as in the summer since those are all evergreen trees up there. They could sell hot chocolate on board like the Niles Canyon Railway, and run a Christmas train also like NCRY.

I've actually posted about this before, so it may be possible. Like Jeff Moore was saying, the problem is finding the money to finance and get funding for this proposal. I mean, it could be done but perhaps in the future.

Yes Emilio, it could be rebuilt if funding was available. Winter railroading needs riders however, and decent weather as well,... albeit colder than summer, but the weather up north is wet.  The Roaring Camp and Big Trees is profitable, and so is the Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific that runs to the boardwalk.  Up North in Eureka and Arcata, where are the customers coming from to keep things rolling?  San Jose and the entire Bay Area are available to RC&BT, and SCBT&P all year.....Just a thought......

John and Emilio:

Jeff and JB have provided very realistic commentaries to John's question about a scenic railway. 

Expensive, yes very expensive and I can only critique Jeff's reply by saying that he did not provide enough emphasis on the cost of insurance.  

Untrained humans (tourists) moving near operating rail equipment is a very high risk condition which necessitates very high cost insurance coverage premiums for the rail operator.  And all of this is required up front before one paying passenger steps into a renovated rail car. 

I'm closely following the costs that are accumulating for the SMART system in Sonoma and Marin counties and related safety issues that are becoming huge.  People up here at least just don't understand the lethal nature of a moving train even running within a fenced RoW.

Come back with a solution that works and we all will salute you.

Thankyou Richard, and I must apologize for missing this one about the Insurance premiums for the rail operator.  Yes, we will all be interested in a solvent solution, so we will continue the discussions, with the costs of safety included as well.

Hey JB happy to have you involved again. 

As a Sonoma County resident, I'm now working with some NCRA locals to get the freight line opened up further north without SMART interference.  Tough job.


That's great Richard.....I believe it is about time that they begin marching on that project.  Too many years have passed without action, and there is freight to be moved off of the highway.  SMART seems to be blunting the expansion efforts at every turn.  Good luck with that project,...I wish you much success !!!  Does the NCRA have a strong lobby, or do they have to absorb what is dictated to them by a higher authority?


NCRA has been castrated (Mark can we use that term?) first by Deukmajian and now by other north coast politicos who have ZERO knowledge of the harm that these overloaded 45 foot semi trailers are doing to our highways up here.  In addition those politicos have no understanding of the FRA classification of freight rail vs passenger rail and have no understanding of the benefits of what a freight service can provide to a rural/farming economy.   

Just today while we were driving up to Cloverdale, my wife asked me why the existing rail line thru Geyserville is not being used? 

Good night.

  Just as I thought Richard....the politicians are in bed with the Teamsters or whatever we call them these days.  Yes, it seems as though they see rail, as passenger rail, and are blind to the opportunities that a freight service might provide.  I wonder just how much freight could be garnered for the NWP,... North of Windsor.



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