We aren’t writing a report to justify a railroad, but….

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.


11 thoughts on “We aren’t writing a report to justify a railroad, but….

  1. I’ve read the report and it is not just well-researched, it’s also well-documented: two qualities not often found when spending the public’s money is one of the concerns.
    I had to live with the slides that closed highway 299 (living in Burnt Ranch and working in Willow Creek) and being reminded of how unstable so much of the area is by the recent (2016) slide on 299 east of Burnt Ranch. The Hawkins Bar slide took a life and was not ‘fixed’ until the route was diverted by two bridges across the Trinity River. I had moved by the time that was done so I
    don’t know how much that cost but whatever the estimate I’m sure the final
    cost was much more.
    I read recently an article that the Port of Oakland is not going to let coal be
    exported there due to the pollution factors. As in coal dust which would cause an increase in the air pollution and like diesel fuel exhaust, be airborne but also contaminate the ground it falls on.
    And since I worked over 20 years in the ocean shipping field I would like to point out that various ports in Oregon (with rail access) will not let possible
    bulk cargo business go somewhere else. (they’re hurting for business, as well).
    I think there’s a major port development up in Washington state as well. One needs to scope out the competition before even thinking to commit to such a scheme as this railroad.
    ‘The boondocks’ has often been used to describe parts of Humboldt and Trinity counties, and quite accurately. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/boondocks
    While Wikipedia says “boondoggle: Not to be confused with Boondocks.”, it
    does describe it as “A boondoggle is a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.”
    But I can’t stop linking the two words in my mind.

    And I would say, in addition to ‘read the report’, that it is not that hard to understand. What it can be is an important lesson in what needs to be done
    BEFORE spending money on possible projects. “Good ideas” crumble when exposed to the proper attention.

    I live in LA and we’re confronted with a plan to build a tunnel to extend the 710 freeway north to connect to another freeway. It is supposed to help move import cargo containers out of the area better with the side benefit of commuters having faster travel (ha!) when heading north or south, rather than using some city streets.
    Here’s the problems: No guaranteed source for funding (partial government, and that not yet committed). Plans call for a toll to use the tunnel and the funding to be a public-private enterprise. Will truckers pay to use the tunnel, given alternate free routes? Partial studies but not actual EIRs do not take into account tunnel safety concerns (fires–no planned escape routes) and pollution (no filtered venting to prevent discharge of heavy truck pollution directly into the air above the tunnel–and into the surrounding areas).
    But Caltrans pushes on, claiming they’ll do a proper EIR when they select the route (does the expression “cart before the horse” sound familiar?) and it’s only the construction companies and building trade unions not to forget the ubiquitous politicians who seem to think the terms ‘boondoggle’ and ‘pork barrel’ to be ones of high praise and approval.
    And if you really want to know how bad it can get, look into the big dig in Seattle that is years behind and billions over budget and not halfway done.

    So don’t expect the highfaluting plans to scope out new trails in the mountains. Long after we’ve run out of hope there will be people who have another ‘good idea’ they want us to take seriously. Oh I do take such good ideas seriously. I seriously think these people should get a real job and find something useful to do that doesn’t require ordinary people to spend money they don’t have to have the good idea people give us something we don’t want.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very good analysis. It seems clear that the costs do not warrant the project. The changes to the bay alone seem prohibitive. Deepening the channel and port infrastructure bring up real problems, other than the very limited size of a operational facility. The concept is a dream without a realistic chance to succeed. We, like many rural areas of the country, don’t have the mix of what it takes to do major development. It is like building a Mall of America, in Eureka. Why spend even a 1/4 mil. by our government to find out it doesn’t make any sense? Someone needs to call a pipe dream what it is, a way for vested millionaires to convince the government to allow them to build a Trump tower which will go bankrupt in a few years leaving us holding the financial bag.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. From it’s inception Upstate’s requirements for the study mandated it will be open and independent from any influence. The study is also required to look at all information available including the Harbor District’s pre-feasibility study. This is public knowledge, anyone looking into it would know this. If you do not believe me, you can ask Larry Glass, he has been present at nearly all the meetings, and will attest to the openness that Upstate demands.
    The study will also show that ships use the bay at present, and that in the late sixties it was not uncommon for the bay to see over 250 ships per year.


    • The “late 60’s” was 50 years ago. So how is Humboldt Bay industry 50 years ago relevant for today’s prospects? It just isn’t. Can you now do the same things in the same way you could 50 years ago? Your recollections of the distant past aren’t a valid way to create realistic projections for the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I eagerly await the Upstate requirements findings. My views are from personal knowledge of watching the ups and downs of bay usage over many years and the wrangling of local commissions, boards, and governments. And then there are major concerns about the toxic remains in the bay sediments from years of industrial waste runoff. A major dredging can’t help but stir up a lot old toxic material. That puts the oyster industry in trouble. The 250 ships at peek bay usage were mostly docking one at a time because of tight space in the bay. Many of those “ships” were really fuel barges and the ships were much smaller than today’s container ships. All in all, it seems like a long shot to have a real, modern, working port in Humboldt Bay. That is my view.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I guess we will have to see what the report has to say.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. On Friday Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to block state funds for any coal-shipping terminals in California and vowed to keep up a fight against the fossil fuel.


  7. I had mentioned the Port of Oakland stopping coal exports (with a new terminal). Seems it’s not going to happen (coal exports) in any California port. A new law has just been signed which bars the use of any state funds for a terminal which handles coal:
    Seems there are still coal mines in Utah and the legislature was going to give the counties where the mines are some of the tax revenues (which were for other purposes) to underwrite the costs for that Oakland coal terminal.
    So whatever bulk cargos might still be on the wish list, coal is OFF.

    The Humboldt Bay Harbor District dates from only 1970. It is not a member of the AAPA (an association of American Port authorities). I mention this as I think the District Board members may not have a broad enough perspective into what a port is, does, and can do. I’ve seen the Boards of the Port of LA and Long Beach in action; both in person and in their documented work.

    In trying to understand the political development of the Harbor District (originally trying to find out who would have records for the port traffic in the years mentioned by another commenter) I came across an interesting side note about the appearance of an invasive species, the European Green Crab.
    It’s a small species but it seems to be held responsible for destruction of indigenous marine species including the clam. It is a concern to most areas where marine harvests contribute to commercial and sport businesses.

    “The bay itself has been invaded by the European green crab, a voracious predator that is known to prey on the young of native crab species, as well as native mussels, oysters, and clams.[5] European green crab were first documented in Humboldt Bay in 1995, and have been blamed for a decline in clam harvesting.”
    On the US east coast they’re catching them and eating them…
    Perhaps this could be investigated (drawing on the skills and knowledge of local academics?) and a small industry initiated?
    http://eattheinvaders.org/green-crab/ (there are other sites about cooking them–it seems they are tasty)

    And in planning for the future of Humboldt Bay, I’m sure some of you are aware that the seas are going to rise and recent studies show how vulnerable much of the usable land around the bay is. Here is what the T-S wrote a couple years ago:
    My searches also brought up this interesting take:

    For those of you who read some of the famous old books, 1984 might remind you how people were controlled by controlling the past. I remember how it would be announced that ‘chocolate is now X cost which is lower than it’s ever been’….which of course was false. But the ‘tell a lie often enough and people forget the truth’ worked then and unfortunately it’s still working now.

    Before (and this applies not just to Humboldt and Humboldt Bay matters but to all contemporary issues) committing to something in the future, take a look back or do research and see what’s already happened and who said what then. Qui bono? is always a valid question and now more than ever.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Pingback: Important chance to stop the East-West Railroad in Weaverville March 9, 10am | Tuluwat Examiner

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