Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Come this summer, residents and tourists alike may be able to take excursions on the railroad tracks along Humboldt Bay aboard pedal-powered rail cars.
Rail Runner Humboldt Bay, owned by Uri and Christine Driscoll of Arcata, would operate a concession stand at Halvorsen Park near the Samoa Bridge in Eureka. Customers would pay for rides aboard the four-seat, four-wheel vehicles, which would travel along the shoreline from the Samoa Bridge to the Arcata Redwood Mill and back.
The company is also considering offering rides out on the peninsula from the Samoa Cookhouse in Samoa to Manila’s Lighthouse Plaza and mini-golf course. A convoy of as many as 10 of the vehicles could potentially travel on these routes accompanied by two Rail Runner employees. Uri Driscoll said he expects to charge each rider $25 to $27 for the experience.
But before Rail Runner can offer tours, it first needs to work out an arrangement with the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), which owns the tracks. The NCRA Board of Directors heard a presentation from the Driscolls on Jan. 9 and its members were enthusiastically supportive of the idea.
“It would be a wonderful addition to our tourist package here in Humboldt County,” said Estelle Fennell, Humboldt’s Second District supervisor and the county’s representative on the NCRA.
Uri Driscoll said that a secondary benefit of the pedal-powered rail cars is that they will help clean up sections of the rail corridor, which is littered with homeless camps, heaps of trash and syringes.
NCRA Director Caryl Hart (who is married to Mickey Hart of Grateful Dead fame) asked whether there were issues regarding safety that needed to be addressed beyond having insurance.
Uri Driscoll said rail runners are popular in Oregon and elsewhere and there is no record of accidents.
“It’s a lot safer than riding a bicycle,” Uri Driscoll said. Someone in the audience then shouted “It’s safer than walking.”
Board members said that rather than having the company work out an agreement to use the tracks with the NCRA, it might be more efficient for Rail Runner to hash out an agreement with the Timber Heritage Association, which already has an agreement with the agency and operates motorized speeder cars on the tracks. There was no discussion about whether the company would have to pay to use the publicly owned tracks.
THA board member Pete Oringer said his group was supportive of the pedal car idea and would be happy to work with the company and NCRA to make the idea a reality.
“‘Yes, we embrace the concept,” Oringer said.
Uri Driscoll said he is waiting to purchase the pedal cars until he gets the necessary approvals to set up the business. Each car, he said, weighs about 120 pounds and cost from $4,500 to $5,000 each.
The Driscolls are currently borrowing a pedal car and, with the permission of the THA, have taken friends and community members on free rides.
With minimal grades on railroad tracks, and minimal wheel resistance, the cars are peppy, fast and smooth. With four seats and four sets of pedals, the cars zip along at a fast pace with only a moderate physical effort from those aboard for the ride.
There’s clickety-clackety rhythm as the seatbelted riders cross the railroad trestle behind Target in Eureka and make their way north along the shoreline. One person aboard the car has control of a hand brake, so it can stop or slow down to admire hawks, egrets and other avian life along the bay.
At the end of the line at the old Arcata Redwood Mill, riders need to detrain, pickup the vehicle and flip it around for the ride back.