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The Proposed Humboldt Bay Alternative Rail Route Feasibility Study

Last month, the Eureka City Council passed a Resolution supporting the Humboldt Bay Alternative Rail Route Feasibility Study after the issue was brought to the Council’s attention by several local citizens at a Council meeting in late December 2011.    At the Council meeting of December 20, 2011, Council heard a presentation by several citizens that were speaking in favor of conducting a study to determine the feasibility of an alternative rail route connecting the port facilities in Humboldt Bay to the national rail system.  The presenters explained that this so-called “east-west” route was not a new idea, but one that actually had its origins in the late 1800s.  The “Humboldt and Eastern Railroad” was in the process of acquiring financing and obtaining easements to build a rail line from Humboldt Bay area to the Sacramento Valley when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire made the competing north-south rail line necessary to supply materials to rebuild the City.  Within a few years, the eastern route was shelved, but not before the route was scouted and mapped.
As conceptually proposed, the purpose of the Humboldt Bay Alternative Rail Route Feasibility Study would be to analyze the concept of developing an east-west alternative rail route from the national rail system to Humboldt Bay that is roughly half of the distance (approximately 125 miles) as compared to the main line using the existing Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s right-of-way. A new easterly route would likely connect Humboldt Bay to an existing Union Pacific main rail line just south of Red Bluff near Gerber, CA.  This new route potentially involves a fraction of the tunnels, bridges and signaled crossings of the existing rail line.

 

Specifically, the study is proposed to involve a literature review on the history of this route; identification of a proposed route from the analysis of no less than three possible routings; identification of land ownerships along the proposed route; a conceptual development plan that includes rail ownership/governance, preliminary engineering feasibility, highway connectors and any proposed modifications to improve highway/rail interface, estimated permitting needs, estimated environmental issues and potential mitigations and estimated development costs and timeline. An easterly route could also incorporate the Humboldt Bay Short Rail portion of the existing NCRA right-of-way from South Fork to Samoa.

 

Support for this study has also been voiced by several organizations including the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce; Building and Construction Trades Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties; Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company; Wiyot Tribe; Humboldt Redwood Company; International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 14; Central Labor Council AFL-CIO of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties; Rail and Port Infrastructure Task Force; California Marine and Intermodal Transportation System Advisory Council; UpState California Economic Development Commission; the City of Fortuna and the City of Rio Dell.

 

It has been noted that one of the factors keeping the Port of Humboldt Bay from regaining its status as an economic engine and sustainable job-creator is the lack of rail service.  The loss of rail service to the Port is full of examples of marine-related commercial-industrial businesses that showed great interest in locating on Humboldt Bay and providing jobs, only to move to some other port city where rail service is available. Reportedly, two recent missed opportunities have shown that our community lost approximately $25 million per year of economic value because the shipping opportunities located elsewhere due to the lack of an active rail connection to Humboldt Bay.

With current examples of the economic potential of a rail line connecting Humboldt Bay to the national rail network and since it appears that NCRA’s north-south line will not be reopened in the foreseeable future, the City of Eureka has taken an opportunity to lead an effort to explore the feasibility of an alternate rail route to the east.