Friday, October 21, 2005

Rob Arkley Speaks

I wish I could have been at this event. I would have enjoyed hearing what Rob had to say. Supposedly he suggested more "civility in politics...". Good for him.

I was pleased to see him once again step up to the plate and offer to pay for a study to determine the feasability and/ or practicality of getting the North Coast Railroad up and running again. Doesn't means he supports the NCRA, I think he just wants to look at whether it makes any sense to support it financially. Again, good for him.

But haven't such studies already been made? I suspect they have but people either arrived at different conclusions to the study, or, some folks feel the railroad should be rebuilt no matter what the cost and whether it makes sense or not. As I've said before, I am not one of the latter.

Along that line, the Times-Standard has an online poll up now asking just that question: Whether you think it's worth however many millions of dollars to rebuild the North Coast Railroad? So far, it looks like Yes is winning, strange as that seems to me. Cast your vote here. Poll should be on the right of the page.


At 3:13 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I suspect it's more like you suspect, that it has little to do with rebuilding the railroad and lots to do with getting the money to "rebuild" the railroad. What do think Fred, want to start at "railroad ties" business, wink wink.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Fred said...

Now that you mention it, I wonder just who it is that's pocketed the money that's been spent on the NCRA over the last twenty five years or so? There has to be at least a few individuals and/ or companies that have gained quited a bit from the railroad money, even with the rail line down.

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who worked for a company that NCRA used to have an account with, it's not going out to pay the bills, they stiffed us on a couple grand. If these jackholes could pull their thumbs out and start running a train around the bay, and then go north and south a bit, and then hook us into a main line somewhere, people would be able to travel in and out of the area quicker and easier (and cheaper). Fuel costs in this area should go down, and same with the prices on items.

That and riding the rails is just plain fun!

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Fred said...

Agreed, that riding the rails is fun! Can't agree that travel would be cheaper or that fuel costs would go down.

I don't know of any rail line that is self supporting, especially so- called "light rail. With the money they spend building and subsidizing light rail, it would be cheaper to just use buses. Amtrack is subsidized to the tune of a billion dollars a year (or was that a month?). There's only a few of their routes in the Northeast that actually suppport themselves.

And around here, back when we had an operating railroad, every time we'd get more than an inch of rain, the slides and all would shut it down and would require thousands or millions of dollars in repairs. I don't know how much it was subsidized before, but at least we had cargo going out on the line back then. Now there's nothing to ship out, at least to the extent that it would make it worthwhile to pay the costs.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Check out this article:

"Government subsidization of highways and airports greatly aided those transportation developments and kept costs low. Railroads did not receive government assistance after the war. In fact, a war-time 15% excise tax on tickets meant to discourage wartime civilian train travel remained in effect, keeping fares higher than necessary."

I'm guessing that lobbyists for airlines, autos, oil, and tires may have had a hand in it.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

State's lawmakers keep ghost railroad alive

Dan Walters
Sacramento Bee

Published on Saturday, July 5, 2005, in the Tracy Press.

SACRAMENTO — When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the Legislature is insular, ineffective and beholden to special interests, he’s absolutely correct.

Senate Bill 792 is a perfect microcosm of legislators’ utter disconnection from reality and common sense, and their penchant for wasting their time and our money on favors and trivia.

Briefly, Senate Bill 792 would let an obscure entity called the North Coast Railroad Authority use $5.5 million in state funds, originally set aside to repay a federal loan, for operational purposes. But to understand its utter absurdity, one needs some history.

For 70 years, beginning in 1914, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad, operated a 300-mile-long line connecting the Bay Area with Eureka, mostly carrying lumber. But NWP was a very expensive line to maintain because much of its track paralleled the Eel River, subject to damage from heavy winter rains and the region’s notoriously unstable geology. As freight business declined, SP finally concluded that the NWP was a loser and in the 1980s sought to shut it down. A private company was formed to buy it in the mid-1980s, but it went bankrupt two years later.

A local assemblyman, Dan Hauser, persuaded the Legislature to create the North Coast Railroad Authority in 1989 to take over the northern portion of the line, contending that public ownership could make it viable. But NCRA experienced exactly the same problems that previous owners had seen. Seven years ago, federal officials shut down the railroad for poor maintenance. Ever since, its roadbed has continued to erode, its tracks have continued to rust and it has not functioned as a railroad in any rational sense.

Nor could it function, any objective appraisal would easily conclude.

NCRA has become, instead, a pretend railroad, existing primarily to garner federal and state funds as those involved, including Hauser during his brief tenure as NCRA’s chief executive, insist that an operating railroad will emerge someday. Meanwhile, it soaks up taxpayers’ money to pay the salaries of those whose only real purpose is to get more taxpayers’ money to pay their salaries. And local federal and state legislators, eager to deliver pork, keep seeking more, including regular injections of federal “disaster relief” funds to pay for storm damage on the fallacy that it really is a railroad.

Tens of millions of dollars have vanished down this rat hole, although in 1998, as he was ending his governorship, Pete Wilson vetoed one $2 million appropriation that supposedly would be spent to clean up the NCRA’s hopelessly tangled accounting system.

“His (Wilson’s) staff told my staff that the railroad was ill-conceived, bankrupt and not worth throwing good money after bad,” the legislator who had received the $2 million, Sen. Mike Thompson, told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Truer words were never spoken.

Thompson went on to Congress and has diligently sought more federal bucks for NCRA. His successor in the state Senate, Wes Chesbro, has continued the tradition in Sacramento, pushed by local lumber and other business interests that use the nonexistent railroad to bargain for better freight rates from truckers. After some of those interests contributed $60,000 to then-Gov. Gray Davis’ campaign treasury in 2000, he allocated a whopping $60 million to NCRA as part of his “congestion relief” program — money that was never spent because the state soon found itself in deep financial trouble.

One of the boondoggle appropriations was a $12 million federal loan that Thompson is trying to have forgiven. If he succeeds, Chesbro’s Senate Bill 792 would allow $5.5 million set aside for repayment of the loan to be used, instead, to underwrite NCRA’s overhead.

Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Niello asked some pointed questions about NCRA and its tangled finances when the bill reached the Assembly Transportation Committee the other day, but Chesbro’s fellow Democrats didn’t hesitate to approve his measure — thus agreeing to pump another $5.5 million, money that could be used for vitally needed real transportation projects, down the rat hole.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the Legislature is dysfunctional.

• Dan Walters is a state Capitol columnist for the Sacramento Bee. His e-mail address is


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