NORTH BAY -- The North Coast Rail Authority is expecting to hear soon from the Federal Railroad Administration that it will be allowed to run freight along the tracks closed by the agency in 1998 under emergency order.
“The track is repaired along the 62 miles from the interchange south of Ignacio to Windsor,” said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the rail authority.
According to Mr. Stogner, the authority put in 56 crossing signals, 42 timber bridges, three moveable bridges over the Napa and Petaluma rivers, 50,000 cross ties and 23,000 tons of ballast.
“We believe we have a track that is ready to go,” he said.
The repairs cost $60 million.
The railroad administration that closed the line in 1998 under Emergency Order 21 put an embargo on the Northwestern Pacific line.
“Our goal when we started on repairs was to address all of their concerns so they could inspect the tracks and lift the order,” Mr. Stogner said. “They have come out and inspected in January and had a repeat visit in February.”
“If they lift the order then that will be the first major step of restoration of service,” he said.
That is task number one. Then the NCRA has to finalize an operating agreement with Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit setting rules on the shared track space.
“We have to certify the environmental impact report, which has to be out [for] 10 days. If they say the track is good to go and the SMART EIR passes at the April 13 meeting,” he said,
“we will be in a position to run trains immediately thereafter.”
The primary issue in the SMART conversation is dealing with the dispatching of trains and coordinating schedules of freight schedules while SMART makes their repairs.
“They want to raise the track to go 80 miles an hour. Currently we believe the track is ready to go at 20 to 40 miles an hour,” he said. “And furthermore, the city of Novato has to agree to let us run trains through the city.
Chris Coursey, spokesman for SMART, said, “We feel like we are close to finalizing the agreement with NCRA.”
Meanwhile, SMART has to figure out how to close the $80 million to $100 million gap in funding it faces.
“The construction industry is really interested to see when we can begin,” he said.