NORTH BAY -- The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has partially lifted Emergency Order 21 and is allowing freight trains to run again on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Marin and Sonoma counties.

“FRA’s decision is great news.  It makes it possible to restart train service from Napa to Windsor by mid-June,” said North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) Chairman Hal Wagenet.

The administration's announcement permits freight service on a 62-mile stretch of railroad from Brazos Junction east to Highway 101, and extending north along Highway 101 through the cities of Novato, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Windsor.

“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.

The rail authority leases the track to a private short-haul rail operator, the NWP Co.  According to NWP Co. president, John Williams, three round trip trains per week will haul feed grains, wood products, building materials, wine, and other general merchandise during the start-up phase between Napa and Windsor.  He said he plans to continue repairing the line north to Willits as financing becomes available.

Mr. Wagenet said the NCRA is planning to certify a $3 million environmental impact report (EIR) in June that evaluates the impacts of train operations on the Russian River Division of the line between Brazos Junction and Willits. NCRA must also finalize agreements with SMART and the city of Novato prior to start-up of train operations.

“The impacts from the return of freight trains are overwhelmingly positive,” said Wagenet.

“One freight car will remove four trucks from Highway 101, and one gallon of diesel will move a ton of freight over 400 miles,” he said.

In the published order dated May 4, FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo said the stretch of track from Brazos to Windsor “may open immediately to rail traffic.”