Humboldt’s East West Rail booster Monte Provolt v. Trinity’s Rail skeptic Patrick Meagher

lego trains

 Rail study worthwhile

Monte Provolt Blue Lake, Calif.

Witnessing the demise of the timber industry, and watching most non-governmental jobs disappear, some of us began looking for solutions to the failing Northern California economy.

Governmental agencies began studying different ways to utilize Humboldt Bay’s deep water port. They studied short sea shipping, they studied the now defunct north-south rail route, plus several private reports. The conclusion was that transportation based on one-way exportation would not be cost effective. Without having a connection to the national rail system allowing loads to move in both directions, it just would not pay.

Many of us remember when Humboldt Bay was a vibrant, active seaport having nearly 300 ships visit per year.

Much of the ships’ cargo consisted of chips and logs that were trucked all the way from southern Oregon and the Sacramento Valley.

With this in mind a group of us decided to revisit the idea of a rail connection to the Sacramento Valley that was abandoned when Highway 299 was built.

Researching other large projects we soon realized the first step would be to have a comprehensive, complete feasibility study done. The experts we talked with advised us that a study for a project this size would cost around $300,000.

At this point we realized there was a group of extreme no-growthers that felt threatened by the idea of a railroad coming back to Humboldt County. We soon learned that just asking if the project was feasible, was not acceptable to them.

One document the no-growthers like to refer to, is the rail study commissioned by the Harbor District.

It should be pointed out, when they refer to this study, they fail to give the actual title of the study which is “East West rail pre-feasibility study.” It should also be pointed out that the money used to pay for the study ($20,000) was left over from a much larger transportation grant ($250,000) studying existing road easements near the pulp mill site.

This underfunded study consists of cut and pasted parts from non east west rail related studies like the short sea shipping study, the north south rail study, among other private studies. When the study does refer to the east west route, it only looks at freight being transported in one direction, completely ignoring the fact the trains would be traveling with full loads in both directions. No wonder the study calls the route marginal.

Looking at the description of the route it is clear not much work went into research. For example, one of the routes goes through the Black Rock wilderness area.

When I was a member of the Harbor District’s economic development committee, I had a chance to ask the author of the Harbor Districts study if he thought his study was complete. He stated that it was very underfunded and a more in-depth study should be made. When I asked if he saw any fatal flaws in the East/West Rail concept, his answer was “no.” The meeting was recorded, and a copy should be available at the Harbor District office.

Another paper studying the East/West Rail was commissioned by Humboldt County Sup. Mark Lovelace. The Humboldt University grad students also came to the same conclusion, the East/West Rail concept should have a more in-depth study made. This study seems to have disappeared.

Trinity County should be congratulated for stepping up, and pushing this feasibility study forward.

I realize there is considerable push-back from a small group of no-growthers, but Trinity County realizes the East/West rail study is an extremely valuable planning tool for the future economies of all Northern California.



The Caltrans economic model

 Patrick Meagher Weaverville

So, let’s put the pieces together that I have provided in my previous commentaries on the Up-state Rail Connect Study along with some new facts.

First, a 2013 study on the same subject established that rail line construction is feasible at a cost of more than a billion dollars and evaluated the project as high-cost and high-risk. New information from a trusted source is that the 2013 study was funded by Caltrans for the Humboldt Bay Harbor District. The 2013 study also pointed out that the cost to construct cargo terminal facilities in Humboldt Bay is more than $200 million.

Second, I have established that Caltrans has stated in a public document that they are now engaged along with Humboldt Bay seaport advocates in the economic development business, an area way outside Caltrans’ expertise. That fact, plus their funding of a new study on the same subject, may be worthy of a complaint to California State Auditor’s Office.

Third, Humboldt Bay, described in Caltrans documents as a “small port” and a “niche port,” has no port terminal facilities, no port terminal operator and, no maritime shipping company has expressed interest in using the port.

Now, more new information. I have had the opportunity to review the grant application for the new Caltrans funded study. The applicant is the Trinity County Transportation Commission whose executive director is Richard Tippett. To quote from the text of the grant proposal, “to better utilize this port (Humboldt Bay) Caltrans is modernizing Highway 299 — Rail is the only freight transportation piece missing.” So, here we are. More proof that Caltrans is in the economic development business.

This small, niche port for which Caltrans funded the initial 2013 rail connect study, now considers the study results to be too pessimistic. So Caltrans has organized another study at the cost of a quarter million dollars plus so that they can control the results through the Upstate RailConnect Committee.

Now for the best part, the Trinity County Transportation Commission is roped into management of this project for the sole benefit of Caltrans and Humboldt Bay seaport advocates’ agenda. I can hear the beginning of the giant Caltrans sucking sound when the Trinity County Transportation Commission agrees to manage this do-over of a perfectly acceptable 2013 rail connect study at their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 20.


12 thoughts on “Humboldt’s East West Rail booster Monte Provolt v. Trinity’s Rail skeptic Patrick Meagher

  1. I suspect Trinity County got involved in this a a job training opp for thier staff. It’s a grant, after all. The study, if done competently, will reestablish that there is no future for an E-W route;

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mr Meagher lost me when he concluded that a rail line would be for the sole benefit of Caltrans and the Humboldt Bay sea port advocates. That is simply ridiculous.
    There could be significant benefits for millions of people particularly if we can be another option for business, disaster relief and transportation.
    BTW I think that is the business that Caltrans is in.


  3. My views on the whole fiasco are well known and I will not bore anyone with repeating them.

    I take issue with Mr. Provolt calling his detractors “No Growthers.” My argument has never been an attempt to hobble our economy (nor am I even anti-train).

    As stated before, I would have no complaint if this kind of money were spent on a study to come up with plans that do have an economic chance of succeeding. My opposition is based purely on the established fact that this particular scheme has no realistic chance of success even if all its varied elements were to be fully funded.

    I am not “No Growth,” never have been nor ever will. This project will never “grow” anything but debts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with MOLA42; my objection is based on more taxes (which CA is already carrying a too-heavy a burden) with no promise of accomplishing anything.
    And on the subject of Caltrans, take a look at this…seems the gas tax isn’t making enough money for them so they’re finding new ways to make us pay:

    Of course everyone with a newer car with the electronic stuff could be required to have all sorts of tracking apps applied….

    Some might want to read Norris’ The Octopus…when I see all the power plays that Caltrans is involved in, I am reminded of it:

    I am anti-Caltrans because of a tunnel system they have been trying to shove down our throats:

    I think Humboldt Bay could be developed for more recreational and less industrial purposes, such as the two cruises which are coming next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Benefit millions of people? Humboldt only has 100,000 people. From the central valley to the coast and north from Humboldt to the Oregon border there isn’t a million people. Just a handful of detractor (no growth)? That is not where I am coming from.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I am going to try to help you think beyond Humboldt or even Oregon.
    Just like we receive goods from around the world that ship through ports around that same world) we could be another successful port. Stuff that would and already does go through our port has great benefit for the “millions” I mentioned earlier.

    As for comparison FWS has spent over a million dollars weed wacking a plant they don’t like that actually builds shoreline topography next to 101. I don’t see how that ridiculous project is helping our economy or anything else. A quarter of that $ to see if we can feasibly build a rail that would likely help our economy seems like one of the better ideas.
    I think it is worth a look.


  7. C’mon man, be honest.

    This is a stealth coal/oil train project, don’t be fooled and don’t try to fool us here. Oakland was fooled for a while but found out the truth.

    Having Cal-Trans entrained in this is crafty as hell, but this would not be the first time they had such a narrow focus and a bad idea and stepped over community concerns.
    Eventually someone can create a study that has the desired result…then ‘see: this is great, let’s do it.’

    Call me a no growther, please.

    I will proudly wear that title when I vote and campaign against such poorly created projects that benefit a few consultants and contractors, and feature political payoffs, a higher burden to the taxpayers, and a high cost to the local people and institutions disrupted by such a foolish project.

    The final ruination of this town and area will follow as day follows night.

    The complete development of such would involve lots more taxpayer burden than ‘just a railroad line’ thru very difficult terrain….to remote Trinity County, hours away from any population center.

    The waste of such a project could have sponsored many smart growth projects, thus ripping the taxpayers and community again.

    The true stealth nature of this project is for it to be eventually used by coal interests and perhaps oil trains. There is no non-fossil fuel cargo argument that makes sense, none. Just notice the constant generalities about it.

    The local proponents would never admit this, and may be truly sincere about the actual shipping of non-fossil fuel products.
    The fossil fuel shippers know better having been scorned and rejected in many other ports up and down the west coast.
    They know it would be an impossible sell here if it were to be posed as a coal and/or oil train. Coal shipping terminals have proven impossible to sell in other ports that are without the extra nigh impossible railroad creation burden…except for the taxpayers paying for it, that part is easy.

    Coal interests are desperate to get a quicker and more secure outlet to Asia despite much analysis showing coal is becoming a loser. Fracking has had a huge effect on the fossil fuel market and prices, Russia’s expected expansion into the Arctic may make coal even worse as a viable product.
    China is lowering it’s coal use projections and canceling new coal plants, so the sellers need to sell before they have no market left, and of course:
    Have the taxpayer pay for it all.
    Of course.

    Proponents have tried this stealth approach in Oakland and been caught at it.
    Coal terminals have been rejected and blocked in most other conceivable ports up and down the west coast.

    This must be prevented here.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. SMH, Thanks for saying what it is really all about. I remember when Caltrans did a 1/2 mil study to convince us all that taking a few Redwood trees to widen 101 wouldn’t change the scenic nature of one of our real treasures. Their whole purpose is to move people and goods as fast as possible from point A to point B. There is no morality in their methods, just get it done.


  9. Editor,

    The Times Standard and various other publications have recently published pieces touting further investigation into the feasibility of a railroad from Humboldt County due east across the Coast Range to the Sacramento Valley floor in the Redding/Red Bluff region. One of the suggestions was that our local economy could be revived by shipping trainloads of bottled water over that route. I write to point out that these authors are missing the most important advantages that could come from a thorough examination of Humboldt’s transportation planning and the creation of a new vision.

    There are no doubt those who will narrowly claim that building a railroad over a mountain range will be prohibitively expensive. This is in part because they only see the railway as being used for products, bottled water, timber, perhaps gypsum board, that are not high in dollar value. Also they will claim that the difficulty of building a railway, which needs to be more or less flat, will cost many millions of dollars per mile to construct. This naively overlooks the fact that all is being called for now is a study, which can no doubt be performed for only hundreds of thousands of dollars per mile. Much more importantly it fails to comprehend the much greater economic potential available to us if only we have the fearless foresight to grasp that potential.

    First, the cost of construction. If the construction methodology is limited to dynamite and diesel, few enduring benefits will accrue. But if we expand our vision we can vastly reduce the cost of construction and foster a new industry. We must envision the building of the railway atomically. As we develop the skills and technology to use carefully controlled atomic explosives we will find we can create the entire railway virtually without any need to use antiquated machinery such as bulldozers and excavators. The development of this technology will be accompanied by massive growth in the educational infrastructure. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of high paying nuclear physicist jobs will spring up. It is also highly likely that one spinoff of this effort will be to get back on track the effort to address the too often ignored necessity for nuclear locomotives. And we should not forget that Humboldt has previous experience with nuclear power. Just think about the possibility that we will one day become a convergence of the Scandia laboratories and the Silicon Valley. Drs. Richmond and Eagles may someday soon preside over research and educational institutions rivaling and surpassing Berkeley and Stanford, perhaps justifying their current salaries. The airport will have to be expanded just to handle the importation of child care providers from Northern Europe The College of the Redwoods will be accredited. We will be rich, famous and internationally respected.

    But the reality is that no matter how great the eastern demand for bottles of water, board feet of timber, crab legs and hashish, those products alone will not support the railroad. Another enterprise will, and that enterprise will contribute even more to our high tech future. It is not enough to build the railway and revitalize our port. HUMBOLDT COUNTY MUST BECOME A SPACE PORT! Several times a week rockets carrying communication and observations satelites will be launched from the Arcata Bottom or from New Samoa, or perhaps both. With a little luck and the proper alignment of the stars the first humans to walk on Mars will have departed from behind the Redwood Curtain. The astro- and geo-physics programs at HSU will expand immensely, creating untold wealth and nearly endless demand for au pairs. There will be a huge new Land Rover dealership. Myrtletown may one day be the home of the grandest opera house in the world. We’ll get a Home Depot, a Trader Joe’s and a Crate and Barrel. The music department at CR will be funded. Fort Humboldt will once again be the most important military installation on the Pacific Coast. And each day sub-assemblies of spacecraft and satellites will flow both east and west on our new railway.

    This is a vision that must be brought to life now. Money must immediately start to flow. It may be necessary that, for a short time, a handful of decades, institutions that supply education, law enforcement, administration of justice, perhaps even streets and sewers will have to go on a back burner, but once we get started nothing can stop us. The future is ours to take. And to ensure that all this occurs I, and the consultancy of entrepreneurs that I will be forming, stand ready to demonstrate not merely the feasibility, but the virtual inevitability of this brave new world.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A few thoughts:

    Humboldt’s pot economy will fail within 5 years when pot is grown cost efficiently in places like the Sacramento Valley where they have ag soils and water. The “Humboldt Brand” will be replaced by less expensive product which will be as good or better. That leaves us an economy based on government jobs.

    A fully utilized port with a rail connection will create an economy for Humboldt County as well as the rest of Northern Ca. It would enable the creation of local businesses with the ability to economically export their products across the USA as well as the Pacific Ocean.

    What would our local economy be like if Yakima Racks were still located in Arcata? Read the article in Northcoast Journal about their departure. Lack of rail to import components and export product is the reason they gave for leaving.

    All of our local businesses face a competitive disadvantage having to truck their products in to sell. Appliances, vehicles, farm equipment, and everything we buy locally is brought in by truck. Too many people travel to Redding or Medford to make their major purchases, and shop for many other items while they are there

    The cost of building a rail has been estimated to be about the same as the cost of a modern professional football stadium. Somehow we manage to finance those.

    Will a rail be financed by private enterprise, or government? Possibly by both. While building a rail, other benefits would be included. Fiber optic lines, and other utilities, maybe a trail. Expanded fire fighting ability, and national security benefits will be additional benefits.

    I want to see a real study.


    • I am increasingly annoyed at when people who want their comments to be taken seriously but will not identify themselves.


    • Please note that “professional sports stadiums” bankrupt urbs with multi-million person populations. If a rail line could be built for a mere billion and a half dollars that would only put Humboldt on the hook for about $30K per employed person in the county. All this to save Yakima 15 cents a bike rack. Maybe trump will pay for it.

      Liked by 2 people

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