HUMBOLDT – The contract engineer for the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) has ventured an opinion on the idea of developing an east-west rail connection, saying that it’s unfeasible.
Dave Anderson of Anderson-Penna Partners, Inc., the NCRA’s contracted engineering firm, dropped something of a bombshell at a Sept. 28 meeting of a subcommittee tasked with analy
zing restoration, trail development and rail operation of the NCRA’s Arcata to Eureka line.
The meeting was the subcommittee’s first, with Anderson outlining his findings about the condition of the bay line.
But during a question and answer session, a woman told Anderson that “a lot of us are scared” and believe Rob Arkley, Jr. may be the “elephant in the room behind this new desire for an east-west railroad.”
Arkley’s company, Security National, owns the Fairhaven Business Park and Anderson had mentioned the possibility of extending the NCRA line to Fairhaven.
Anderson said he didn’t have Arkley in mind when he made the comment. Then he discussed the viability of east-west rail development. “I don’t see how it’s feasible,” he said. “I don’t know how rich he is but if he had a billion dollars to throw away, I don’t see how he’d ever get that return.”
Clarifying that he doesn’t know what the cost would be, Anderson added, “I suspect it would be a very expensive proposition.” He also doubts whether there would be enough freight capacity to justify east-west rail development.
“I can’t see the reason to do that for some fertilizer or… I just can’t see it,” Anderson said.
The meeting was held at Eureka City Hall and an audience of about 40 people included council members and officials from the city, which is the lead agency in a politically-charged effort to raise money for a feasibility study on east-west rail. Several people on opposite sides of the proposal were also there.
After Anderson said east-west rail isn’t feasible, railroad advocate Bill Bertain asked, “Have you analyzed it, have you explored the market?”
Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen, a member of the NCRA board and the subcommittee, quickly squelched the discussion. “Let’s not get sidetracked on a discussion of east-west,” he said. “We’re aware it’s out there and certainly the people interested in the east-west are interested in this discussion but this discussion is something that NCRA needs to have just on its own accord.”
Bill Kier, a Humboldt representative on the NCRA board and a subcommittee member, said a meeting on Oct. 26 will focus on rail operation potential. “Let’s get all the data ready for that,” he continued.
Earlier, Anderson presented his initial findings on the condition of the Humboldt Bay Rail Corridor. Three of the line’s five main bridges are made of timber and need repairs, he said. Bridges crossing the Eureka and Mad River sloughs are concrete and in good condition, he added.
The Gannon Slough bridge is in “fairly good” shape, he said, but a bridge crossing Butcher’s Creek is “deteriorating” and the Jacoby Creek Bridge is in bad enough shape to warrant consideration of replacing it instead of repairing it.
None of the five culverts Anderson looked at were in good condition.
A major expense will be upgrading and installing signals on the line’s 39 highway, road and street crossings. Anderson said that alone could cost up to $5 million and he ventured a wide-ranging guess of between $10 million and $20 million for the total cost of restoring the Humboldt Bay line.
Humboldt County Supervisor Clif Clendenen, the NCRA’s board chairman and the third member of the subcommittee, said the goal is to gain understanding of rail-related issues over the span of three meetings.
Another meeting will be held Oct. 12 to probe the prospects of trail development in accordance with NCRA’s trail policy. It defines trail development as being accessory to the rail line so talk of railbanking and installing a trail over the tracks will probably be discouraged.
After the third and final subcommittee meeting on Oct. 26, reports on each topic will be drafted and ready for the NCRA board’s consideration at its Nov. 14 meeting in Eureka.