Guest post from Patrick Meagher of Weaverville
I was pleasantly surprised to read in a recent Trinity Journal the Railconnect Committee spokesperson’s dramatic change in tone from the article published in the June 29 Trinity Journal. That statement declared it to be “a generational social and economic game changer.” Instead, I was happy to read that he intends for it to be, “truthful, complete, and as transparent as possible” and, “We aren’t writing a report to justify a railroad, but to determine if a railroad is justified.”
Bravo! In order to assist the committee to be as truthful and transparent as possible I want to provide Journal readers with an overview of the Humboldt Bay Alternative Rail Corridor Concept Level Construction Cost and Revenue Analysis Final Report that was released in August 2013. All 43 pages of it can be found on the internet. The study is professionally done by two well-respected consulting organizations. The study focused on dry bulk cargo and does not address containerized cargo and cites the 2003 study that recommended against a container port in Humboldt Bay.
The report identifies three potential routes from Humboldt Bay to Redding, Red Bluff and Gerber. Route distances vary from 194 to 258 miles. All will require bridges and tunnels. Of most concern to me is route 1 that is proposed to run through Hyampom valley, Hayfork and Wildwood (you can read about this proposed rail route on Page 8 & 9 of the report). Rail line construction in 2013 dollars is estimated at over a billion dollars plus for each option.
The report addresses the type of bulk cargos that are deemed as feasible for transport to a Humboldt Bay seaport. These include coal, soda ash, iron ore, wheat and corn in a laundry list of bulk cargos. The report identifies port terminal construction requirements for loading dry-bulk ships at a cost of more than $200 million in 2013 dollars. In addition, further dredging of the Humboldt Bay channel to accommodate these ships will be necessary.
The report conclusion states, “Rail service to Humboldt County will require major investment. In order for this investment to be financially feasible, the rail line will need to generate large volumes of cargo. A rail line to Humboldt County would face strong competition from existing ports, primarily those on the U.S. West Coast. Humboldt County would face several competitive disadvantages relative to these other ports, including the need to cover the cost of constructing a new line, and the lack of rail distance advantage. In addition to the lack of rail infrastructure, waterborne exports of large volumes of bulk commodities would likely require substantial investment in new cargo terminals. Also the Humboldt Bay navigation channel is not as deep as those at most competing ports, which would also require substantial investment. In conclusion, development of rail service to Humboldt County is likely to be both high cost and high risk.”
Now it appears to me that a lot of the work of the Railconnect Committee and it’s yet to be hired consultant has been accomplished given the thoroughness of this report. In the interest of transparency and to help the project move along it would behoove the committee to ensure that several copies of the Humboldt Bay Alternative Rail Corridor Concept Level Construction Cost and Revenue Analysis Final Report are available in the library for public review.