East West rail fantasy: the debate continues

crazy train

Guest post from “Big Time rail” supporter Monte Provolt; let him know what you think!


Why is the East West route better than the North South route?


The two rail lines have two different purposes. If you want to haul local lumber products 250 miles south to the San Francisco, and have the train return empty, then the North South route would probably be better.

If your intention is to have loaded ships entering and exiting Humboldt Bay, connecting the California interior and the Nation to the Asian markets, or to relieve some of the congestion ports to the south of us are experiencing, or to take some of the massive truck traffic off the roads, then the East West Rail would be better.


Is it true that the East West advocates are a bunch of rich guys that own property along the proposed route?


Hell No….


How are you going to find a route through all that critical NSO habitat?


Included in the scope of work that is required in the feasibility, is not only three separate routes, but also an environmental review, impact on property owners, and permitting costs.


Is the route really going to run through the Trinity Alps?


The route will absolutely not go any where near the Trinity Alps. And unlike some studies, the route will not go through the Fieldbrook Valley, or go through any wilderness areas.


I realize that to those against the East West rail, this attempt to answer questions may just raise more. I would like to continue to answer them either here or on the EastWest blog.                                Monte Provolt


The reason this has become a “thing” again is now they have some of your tax dollars to spend: (cal-trans press release)

TRINITY COUNTY- Trinity County Transportation Commission (TCTC) Executive Director Rick Tippett announced today the TCTC has been awarded a $276,000 Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant from Caltrans to conduct the Upstate California Railconnect Feasibility Study.

“A new rail line connecting Humboldt Bay’s seaport with the national rail system in the Sacramento Valley has the potential to be a social and economic game-changer for Northern (Upstate) California, including Trinity County,” said Tippet. “Northern California faces a variety of social and economic challenges that would be improved by the fuller utilization of the seaport at Humboldt Bay. To better utilize this port, CalTrans is modernizing Highway 299 and the shipping channels have been deepened. Rail is the only freight transportation mode missing. Exploring feasibility of such a rail connection is what is proposed to be addressed by the grant.”

For several years, Trinity County representatives have been joined by representatives from the County of Humboldt, County of Tehama, City of Eureka (as the port city), Northern California Tribal Chairmans Association and the UpState California Economic Development Council as a multi-agency group that has conducted public outreach, research and created a robust scope of work for the feasibility study. Trinity County Supervisors John Fenley and Bill Burton have represented Trinity County on this study.

Supervisor Fenley thanked Caltrans for awarding this grant and for their support of Trinity County and the North State. “I look forward to getting back together with our multi-agency group to assist the TCTC with this study,” said Fenley.

“The Upstate California Railconnect Feasibility Study will provide public decision-makers and private investors with a package of information on which to make informed investment and business decisions regarding a new rail line connecting Humboldt Bay’s deepwater seaport with a national rail connection in the Sacramento Valley,” Fenley added.

The Scope of Work for this feasibility study was developed by the multi-agency group with the assistance of a CDBG grant obtained by the City of Eureka in 2012. The feasibility will include information on potential rail routes, additional uses of the rail corridor (e.g. trail, passenger service, redundant fiber optic, etc), economic benefits, environmental and cultural impacts, rail infrastructure design considerations, timeline and costs to develop, and more.

In addition to the grant, the non-profit organization Land Bridge Alliance (LBA) will provide $69,000 in matching funds and in-kind services to the project. LBA was formed to provide an open and publicly accessible venue for factual information related to the creation of a feasibility study which leads towards answering the question of viability of the newly proposed rail corridor.

“The need is for transportation options for freight and passenger uses, over a long period of time, upwards of a century,” said Trinity County Supervisor Bill Burton. “This transportation link would have many social and economic benefits and national implications.” He added “this project, if built, will have long term jobs implications, as well as business and tourist economic factors. As a first step, this study will help determine the potential costs of a built project.”

This grant program was created to support Caltrans mission: provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability. Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant information can be found here.


19 thoughts on “East West rail fantasy: the debate continues

  1. What about the fact that Humboldt Bay isn’t a real deep water port and that very large ships can’t turn around?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will answer the two questions raised.
      The rest I will save up, and answer later.
      To Joe6pac, The fact is, Humboldt Bay is a deep water port. There is a turning basin large enough to handle 80% of the ships in the world.
      In 1969 over 250 ships came into Humboldt Bay empty and left with lumber products.
      To glass half empty Mola, I have similar questions. The difference between you and me is, I’d rather have a comprehensive study to see if it is possible once and for all.


      • How much money has Arkley funnelled in to this through land bridge alliance

        Liked by 1 person

      • eastwestrailroad:

        I already demonstrated why the scheme is not practical. I note you do not take me on directly, but just say, “Wait and See.”

        Well, I have waited for sanity to show itself around here for over 60 years now and I am seeing $300k flushed down the toilet (or is the toilet only half full…?).

        Call me a pessimist if you want, but when somebody spends that kind of money in our name, it should be spent to find something (anything) that can work for us. That money should not be spent researching something that will never work despite all the wishful thinking in the world.

        If I were to seriously suggest we spend $300k to study building a spaceport to greet any E.T.’s that might wander by then you would think I was nuts. And you would be right.

        Well, the East/West Railroad has just about the same probability to be a success. Yet the sanity of those pushing for this is never questioned.


        If you were to say, “Let’s buy $300k worth of brain power to figure out what is possible that we CAN do to save ourselves,” then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But we aren’t doing that, now are we?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Most modern large ships can turn around in place thanks to bow thrusters, azipods, and other inventions, or simply reverse out. And tugboats have been aiding large ships in maneuvering for about 150 years. Many ports provide a harbor pilot to large vessels to aid with navigation, as the local pilot will know the waters.

    However, I still have a hard time seeing creating a brand new rail route as cheaper than rehabilitating the old one. But maybe the extra cost would be repaid by the (theoretical) extra freight that a more direct route could handle?


  3. The ONLY possibility for a viable East-West route is the Gerber route that only requires 12 miles of new track. But there still is no showing that there will be enough freight to support it. The north-south route would have
    to be re-laid to support passenger transit but still makes more sense.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We as a community should be very interested in what this study has to say. The old $20K harbor district study did not include a lot of things that this one will.
    Using the right of way for fiber optics,water, trails etc could add to the feasibility. If there is a place to put some vacationing spots along the route that should be looked at as well. Taking an excursion train to a lodge or camp ground from either inland or the coast would be an added plus.
    What is also interesting is some of the new technology associated with trains. They are getting even more efficient by replacing some of the diesel engines with huge batteries, essentially a Prius.
    I am not sure why there seems to be so much fear around having a very efficient transportation feature added to our community. Perhaps someone can explain that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There is no possible way to build a rail line over any of the three proposed routes. The currently funded study is a total waste of money which could have been better spent on existing projects than paying some consultant big money to come back with “you have to be out of your mind” as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed with Monte’s Q&A. I was hoping for a bit more “meat on the bone.” I’ll try to go over what was said here point by point.

    1. The reason North/South was built in the first place was that the route ran “with the grain” (follows the river valleys) of the mountains. East/West runs against the grain, meaning it would have been far more expensive to build and maintain.

    The truth is we let the North/South rail go rot because it became cheaper and easier to ship the logs and lumber by truck… and that reality still exists today.

    If that day comes when it is no longer practical to truck our products due to increased fuel costs…. well the last thing we’re going to be worrying about is if we have a train to Redding. In that scenario, no one will be shipping anything to anywhere.

    2. Is the E/W train a dream project supported mostly by rich folk? You say “no.” Well… So says you, anyway.

    But even if we take your answer at face value, the truth is that for whatever reason there is a large part of our poor and middle classes that love to support a billionaire who would never give them a second thought if it weren’t for the fact that the billionaire needed their votes.

    This seems also true for economic interests… Wave around a shiny object and tell folks they’ll make a bundle and reason goes out the window.

    All of this does not rule out interested parties that are out to make some really big bucks at our expense. There is a value in keeping a low profile.

    3. Ecological Consequences: I haven’t gone into that much in previous comments because quite frankly the economic arguments against the E/W rail pretty much put paid to the idea.

    But let us talk about all the grading, bridge building and god knows what else that goes into building a railroad against the N/S alignment of the mountains. You can study a problem all you want but the truth of the matter is the damage done in construction is very high and no amount of studying will change that.

    Just look at the ecological consequences of a relatively tiny (and much studied) project like the Willits by-pass, and multiply it a dozen fold or more.

    4. Where is the E/W route going? For my purposes, that question is moot. There is no such thing as an ecologically low impact route. And there is no such thing as an economically viable route.

    I’m not against trains… I think trains are kind of cool. And trains work very well in a lot of places, perhaps even in most places.

    However we happen to live in an area that makes building and maintaining train tracks very difficult; the benefits do not out weigh the costs… HERE.


    Of course, what hasn’t been raised at all is: Once you get your E/W train, how do we get an appropriate place for all those trains to go to? In other words, how much do we get to spend to make Humboldt Bay capable of handling all this freight? We’re already looking at a billion dollars to build the rail… How much more do we get to pay for completely re-building the infrastructure on Humboldt Bay to handle all of this new ship traffic?

    Which leads me back to my economic argument. The bill just gets taller and taller and yet somehow the E/W rail advocates just get more and more optimistic (without any apparent reason the optimism in the first place).

    Monte: You need to answer this question: How can you make this project “pencil out” (pay for itself)? I suspect you didn’t ask that question because there is no answer other than, “You can’t”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Trains have far lower environmental impact than roads. The right-of-way is much narrower, and covered in gravel ballast instead of asphalt. It leaches far less chemicals into the runoff water, and causes fewer issues with erosion as water naturally soaks in to the ground instead of running off the sides at high-speed into ditches. The intermittent long vehicles instead of constant small vehicles results in minimal disruption to wildlife travel patterns and almost no roadkill. Trains do not leave rubber particles and associated chemicals in the surface water (when your tires wear out, where do you think that extra 50lbs of rubber went? Something like a couple billion pounds of rubber particles every year, and the evidence says it’s pretty harmful to aquatic life.), leak a lot less oil, and generally are a lot nicer to their surroundings. They consume far less fuel per amount of goods moved, reducing pollution, reducing global warming, and reducing the number of oil-rich countries we need to invade.

      Similar amounts of construction impacts would be produced by widening 101 or 299 to handle normal truck traffic. Go take a look at Buckhorn if you want to see what’s involved in straightening even a small freeway with a single lane in each direction.

      Or, the short version: From an environmental standpoint, trains pay for themselves really quickly. Relatively low impacts during construction, and much less impact than a road during operation. Moving goods off of trucks and onto trains helps the environment.

      And, of course, 90% of the environmental issues with the Willits bypass are bullshit brought up by people wanting to delay or prevent it because of other reasons, but lacking any legal arguments.

      That said, I’m still not convinced it’s cheaper to build a new route than repair the old one.


      • You generally right about rail versus highways but its this particular route that’s going to create such havoc you’re forgetting the maximum 2% grade requirement and the larger than normal clearance because of the tall trees. This will have a huge negative effect on the wild lands


      • busytails:

        I’m not pushing the ecologic argument. I am pushing the economic. I merely mentioned the ecologic because that is where eastwestrailroad chose to focus two of his questions.

        We as a society chose before I was even born to go with a road system and phase out the railroads. That was a mistake… A mistake we however are stuck with. It was done for economic reasons, not ecologic ones.

        The damage has already been done.

        Given my druthers I would have kept and expanded the national rail net, not the roads. But that is not the reality on the ground today.

        Bullshit is in the cow-pie of the beholder.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. “I already demonstrated why the scheme is not practical. I note you do not take me on directly, but just say, “Wait and See.” ”

    Mola, if you are correct, it would sure save me a lot of time and effort,
    if you would please post your qualifications, expertise, and your real name so I can see if you really know what you are talking about.


    • eastwestrailroad:

      I merely use logic, knowledge of past actions and critical thinking skills. When you pay a billion dollars to build something and continue to pay yearly a significant proportion of that initial bill just to keep it going… Well, you are going to have to haul an awful lot of freight to do it.

      I never claimed to be an expert. That’s your department. It is up to you to prove to us that this has a ghost of a chance of being anything but a precursor of what we have now with the North/South line.

      You need to justify spending $300k to study a scheme that has already been shown to be cost prohibitive. You have not done that yet. That is why I said I wished for more “Meat on the Bone” in your Q/A.

      For all I know, if the $300k study doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, you’ll be calling this study a “joke” too and ask for a million bucks for another.

      You want my real name? Just do what the NSA does and hack me. Doing that won’t change an iota of what I have said or whether I make sense or not.

      And, I still note you do not take me on directly.

      Liked by 2 people

      • How do you answer a diatribe directly? If you ask me a direct question, I will do my best to give you an answer.


      • eastwestrailroad:

        Diatribe… I like that. I answer to you and it’s a diatribe. You don’t answer me and it’s… what?… a sign you are an optimistic person? Sorry, I really don’t get it.

        I’ll make it even easier for you than I have already:

        Question: How do you make this pay for itself?

        Answer: ???????

        (By the way, I have already directly asked you this question in this thread; you seemed to have missed that).

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Mola. I’ll give you an example of how rail construction goes these days. Hawaii is in mid stage of building a commuter line from Pearl Harbor to the center of Honolulu. The original est.,, 2 billion. Now half done the bill has moved to 8 billion. They can’t afford to go all the way, a mere 20 miles. So they are ending the line near a bus line to take people into the city to work. The state is picking up over half the costs and taxation is falling far short. So much for great ideas.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Mola,
    You continue to assume I am some sort of expert, I am not. I am an advocate, a realist, meaning I want to have my questions answered by real experts.

    In over 1200 words, you have made statement after statement, and you only back it up with your own circular logic. After all that, your question is one that can only be answered by an in-depth study, which is in the process.
    My purpose for the posting was to inform anyone that had questions, not to get into a thumb wrestling match.


    • eastwestrailroad:

      “My purpose for the posting was to inform anyone that had questions, not to get into a thumb wrestling match.”

      It took you a long time to come up with that. But fair enough.

      Look, I’m not the one with $300k of someone else’s money in my pocket. I don’t need to justify anything. You do. That is my point. And it is further my point that you have not.

      The sad thing is while you go on in hurt tones because someone has lacked the grace to ask questions you won’t answer (questions you invited in the first place)… You never the less are in the position to call all the shots.

      I, on the other hand, with the answers in hand, am in the position to do nothing but watch a process unfold I’ve seen happen too many times already.

      Here is my final point, then I am done with you:

      There are studies; and then there is the Study of the Silly. Going back to my Spaceport Welcome Center for Visiting E.T.’s… I think we should spend $300k to see if the idea has a chance to work.

      That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? I mean, how are we to know if it won’t work until we study it? Right?

      Well, we know because it makes no empirical sense.

      Just as is the case for this E/W railroad scheme, except I already have a preliminary study to back up my observations. You (by your own reasoning) would have absolutely no cause to argue against my request for $300k to study my project (I can see the slogan now that SETI broadcasts to the Universe: “E.T.: Call Humboldt!”).

      As I said, I’m done. I’ve either made my point by now or I never will. The floor is yours.

      Well… Except: Did you really bother to count the number of words I wrote? Really?

      Liked by 1 person

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