Thursday, February 14, 2013

I been workin' on the Railroad.

I had Lunch with our new 2nd District Supervisor, Estelle Fennell, the other day, and I was somewhat excited to find the she had been appointed by the Humboldt Co. Board of Supervisors of be our representative on matters of railroads into Humboldt County. As many of you already know, there has been some talk about building an entire new rail-bed, on an entirely new route, East and West, from Eureka to the Sacramento valley, while abandoning the existing Eel Canyon, flat ground, rail-bed that is already an established right-of-way. I’ve probably already tipped my hand of the route that I prefer, more information on that later.

I am a big fan of large machines and technology, like trains. I am also a big fan of fishes, critters, and the environment. In the interest of full disclosure, I include my good friends the human beings as part of the environment. I feel that the world is way over-populated at this point already, and we need to start addressing what we need to do about world population. Are you ready to get of the world? Neither am I. That leaves us with convincing the young breeders of the world to try to limit themselves. Good luck with that. I can be rather pious, in that I only produced one offspring. However, that offspring produced two children and one of them produced one more. You see the dilemma. I am now responsible for three replacements for myself in this world. As you might guess, I am very happy with my offspring replacements, so you began to see the population dilemma.

Back to the subject of railroads. I told Estelle that I was a big proponent of rebuilding the Eel River Canyon railway. First, it is an established right-of-way, there will be no land acquisitions, no major excavations, and most of the historic problems of building the original rail-bed have stabilized. Some people reel in horror at the thought of a railway down the Eel canyon. Their first thought is the environment… mine too! But, give it some thought. Many will point out all of the problems that have been related to the Eel canyon rail. Some will point out all of the debris that has been caused and left by from the rail. Old rail cars can be seen dumped in the river and abandoned. Many old bridges have been pushed aside and abandoned, not to mention all the old coal loading stations, water tanks and equipment from the steam locomotive days. Some trash was hauled off, but a lot was simply abandoned.

My thoughts are that the trash left behind will never be cleaned without a railway to haul it off. We no longer live in the early twentieth century. The new rail will not be constructed in the manner of the early rail. The rail-bed that is left is stable, with a few remarkable exceptions. A new rail should be constructed with concrete rail-ties similar to what the rest of the world uses. Creosote rail-ties are no longer allowed to pollute the river. The trash left from the old railroad could be cleaned as the new rail is completed. The slides that are in the canyon now are historic slides that were there as far back as history itself. They may have been aggravated by the railroad, but they were there first, and, indeed, they are still there, some many years after the trains have been gone. They will be there thousands of years from now. Truth! The good news is that we have had much more soil added to the north coast hills than we have lost. The soil in Petrolia is four feet higher, and Kings Peak is 16 inches higher after the great earthquake in the early 90’s. We are NOT going to run out of dirt folks. Erosion on the North Coast is as natural as, well, erosion on the North Coast.

As I said earlier, this is no longer the early twentieth century. We no longer kill the Indigenous People, and we have made several improvements in technology also. We have technology to avoid land-slides. Viaducts, similar to the one in front Native Lady Rock in Sonoma County, and closer still, the Eagle point Viaduct south of Myers flat are used to get past slides. The Twintrees bridge, south of Benbow, has an active slide that goes under it moving into the river. We can leave the historic slides alone and go past or over them. We now have the technology.

So, now that we have come up with a plan to clean up the trash, leave the slides alone, and get rid of all the creosote rail ties, you are now probably thinking that it will never work because it will never make any money. Europe is probably a poor example to use right now, because there economy is in the pits, but most travel in Europe is by rail. Their rails don’t make money, they are built by the governments, similar to our highways. The only place that highways are owned by big business is in major cities like Los Angeles. We will need a Government subsidy. Maybe Obama will give us some economic recovery money. Think of how nice it would be to have some legitimate jobs and good wages in Humboldt County again, just one more reason to go down the Humboldt Eel river Canyon. If you still doubt the rail will bring us prosperity, just remember how prosperous Humboldt was when we had a rail.

I’ve heard much ballyhoo about Short Sea Shipping. If S.S.S. is so viable, why aren’t they doing it? There is already an ocean route and many, many ships. The short answer is handling, time and poor economics. There are already well established routes along the coast of California. The big need is a method to move freight inland without reloading it off Short Sea Ships. Plus docks are already too crowded. S.S.S. would only add to the dock congestion. We will never see a viable Short Sea Shipping without dock space in the southern harbors. If you think that it is possible, think it all the way through, and give me a plan. I don’t see it happening.

Humboldt Bay has been a historic shipping point up until very recently. The bay has not, nor will it ever be crowded by ships. The bay is a large place. Dock space will always be the limiting factor. There will be plenty of room for cruise ships and tourism. The further dredging of the harbor will be paid for by the increased shipping.

The economics of a passenger railroad will probably be prohibitive, but my fondest hope would be to have a passenger quality railway through the north coast. We have such wonderful trees and such a beautiful country. Wouldn’t be great to connect the world to Humboldt County? Can you imagine a slow speed rail tour through the redwoods? Say, about forty MPH. We don’t need a high speed passenger rail, we need a view. Glass top rail cars up the Eel canyon. Those of you that get fogged out of the Arcata Airport can catch a train up the canyon from San francisco.

Container ships are designed to offload onto rails. A ship could offload a container that could go pretty much through to Salt Lake City with no more handling. Small rock mining operations along the Eel canyon could be done with limited environmental impact. We have hard rock in the main Eel that makes premium concrete. A passenger rail would be the Crème de la crème. So give me a railroad, or birth control. As a good friend of mine once said: “Poverty is the number one pollution”. Humboldt deserves a railroad and the prosperity that it can provide.