My wife Robin and I attended the latest Humboldt Harbor Working Group and the Timber Heritage Association
(THA) special luncheon presentation concerning an excursion train around the
bay. The meeting was led by Randy Gustafson (of Stone Consulting) who recently
completed Bay Rail "Feasibility Study Update and Assessment Report." I
heard the report was paid for by the Humboldt Lodging Association. This report was to address program and funding opportunities to enhance
rail use on Humboldt Bay. Topics were to include speeder rides and
rallies, pedal-powered rail cycles, and excursion trains. About 70 or so people
were present, as well as the Executive Director and three Humboldt Bay Harbor Commissioners.
All seemed excited to hear this subject matter.
Mr. Gustafson outlined the physical attributes of the existing line and
complimented the Timber Heritage Association (THA) for perseverance of the assets around the bay. THA President Pete
Johnston and his 400 volunteers have logged over 10,000 volunteer hours and are
passionate for Timber History and especially the historical train element. The
THA has been on the forefront of creating a “Rail with Trail” program in Humboldt
that has been successful. Gustafson was clear to explain that our local track
around the bay would only qualify for Federal Rail Administration (FRA) Class 1 transportation which would restrict travel speeds to 10-15 MPH taking into
consideration of our gauge of ties and condition of the rail line. Gustafson was good at
showing other excursion train models and how they have used other abandoned
rail lines that have rail with trail and no fences barricading each other. He also
pointed out that there was a 20% boost in tourism when you add the element of
Train with Boat like the Madaket.
So everyone seems to
like the excursion train concept and very little opposing voices seemed to be
What is holding up this type
Mr. Gustafson was just
at this meeting to point out the viability. He did not address some of the
blockades. Here are a few:
Legislation. Senate Bill
1029 (McGuire)-This bill creating the “Great
Redwood Trail” requires the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) to
undertake an assessment of the North Coast Rail Authority assets and
liabilities and to submit a plan to the state legislature to dissolve the (NCRA).
Funding Source- There will be no funding
or grants available until the process above is complete. Period.
New Trail Agency- There will be a creation
of a successor trail agency with a mandate to facilitate the creation of
interconnected, multi-use recreational trails along the NCRA right of way in
Humboldt County. During workshops and Rail Authority meetings there has never
been a topic brought forward on any agenda concerning an excursion train.
Proposal would be unprecedented- Even
if a nonprofit business would like to obtain a lease or license for an
excursion train use along the NCRA Corridor, on a railroad track way
transitioning to state ownership the jurisdiction over an “active” rail line is
in the legal hands of the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) and the Surface
Transportation Board (STB).
Decisions have to wait for use of track- So basically discussion on the use of this right of way around the
bay has been ongoing between the CalSTA-SB 1029 Project Manager, California
Transportation Commission (CTC), Senator McGuire staff and NCRA legal counsel
and all agree that until the successor agency is named, no new plains for rail
use will be fruitful.
Nuts and Bolts- Mr. Gustafson was
showing in his presentation how to build up levee damaged rail around the bay
by using Riprap as an easy fix. He admits that process would have to be
approved by the California Coastal Commission. Could be years for that process.
If anyone is going to lead this idea of an excursion train, first
do a reality check. I talked to my fellow Harbor Commissioner Larry Doss and he
wants to co-organize a workshop and invite as many participating agencies in
the process to see if an excursion train is even viable. I agreed.