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.