'This is wonderful news to get rail back in Sonoma and Marin'

NORTH BAY -- The North Bay could have freight running as soon as June 16, according to the North Coast Rail Authority, which will have a significant impact on local businesses, particularly manufacturers.

“This is very important wonderful news to get rail back in Sonoma and Marin,” said Richard Caletti, president and chief executive officer of Standard Structures, a manufacturer of Engineered Wood Products produced for the commercial and multi-family construction market.

His business requires the import of large quantities of lumber which, since the embargo on freight in the late 1990s, has had to be moved by truck at the end of the rail line.

“For lumber dealers and remanufacturers we ship in a lot of lumber from Canada,” he said. “The cost is $1,500 more per railcar to do this without running the materials all the way on rail. For every rail car there are three truckloads and it takes two or three days extra time.”

While in the last few years business has been slower due to the economy, he said historically they have had five railcars per week delivered.

Additionally, in terms of nationwide contracts, without rail, he said his company cannot compete.

“It is also important for our outbound work,” he said. “There is a windfarm project in Texas that our laminated timber is competitive for but the laminated beams are 120 feet. We can’t compete without rail.”

Earlier this month the Federal Railroad Administration partially lifted Emergency Order 21 to allowing freight trains to run again on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Marin and Sonoma counties.

There are several agreements that NCRA has to complete prior to certification of the final Environmental Impact Report, one with the City of Novato and one with the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit.

The Novato agreement includes having a quieter train. It was originally supposed to include making a continuously welded rail.

“We made the case with Novato to not include that since SMART is going to come through in as early as 2012 and do that to the entire corridor,” said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the rail authority.

“We suggested that rather than do that we will run very slow -- 25 miles an hour -- through Novato. They tentatively agreed with us but they also insisted we use a tier three locomotive on the outset, which has been obtained for that purpose,” Mr. Stogner said.

The SMART agreement includes figuring out a schedule for freight.

“Our attorneys are working on the final language to work out the operating agreement so we both can work peacefully on the track,” said David Heath the interim general manager of SMART. “The hope is that both boards will approve it in June as we have essentially agreed on principal.”

The tentative schedule is as follows: On June 8 NCRA will consider the Novato Agreement and SMART agreement.

On June 15, SMART is set to consider the SMART/NCRA agreement.

Assuming both agreements are signed on June 16, NCRA will consider certification of final environmental impact report and will be set to run freight that day or the next, according to Mr. Stogner.

“It has been a long haul and we are finally there and are looking at mid-June,” he said.