Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tie Distribution Progresses Northward to Novato and Petaluma

During the week of June 14, Balfour Beatty forces distributed ties on the 11 miles of Northwestern Pacific mainline between Ignacio and Haystack Bridge on Petaluma's south side.

In the above photos made by Nate Muhlethaler on the morning of June 18, the work train crept through Burdell (milepost 31.3) and dumped ties. This station just north of Novato features a track scale for weighing railcars and a 6078-foot-long siding for meeting trains.

With no more ties to distribute, the work train retraces its steps east to interchange six empty cars with the California Northern at Lombard. In the above picture made by Nate Muhlethaler on June 18, the crew runs around its train on the Ignacio wye so that the engine (on the NWP mainline south to San Rafael in this view) will be on the head end. This move provides better visibility for the engineer and eliminates the need to shove the train the full distance to Lombard. The overpass pictured carries State Highway 37 over the wye.

In the above image made by Christian Goepel, the work train takes a curve in rural Sonoma County within sight of the Roche Winery and the Nascar Sprint Cup Series being held at the Infineon (Sears Point) Raceway on June 19.

As captured by Kevin Sheridan, early morning light bathes the work train at Black Point on June 19. Within minutes, the Black Point Bridge closed and the work train crossed the Petaluma River en route to Lombard. One-time NWP customer Kelleher Lumber is just out of view to the left.

In this June 19 view by Kevin Sheridan, the Balfour Beatty crew runs around its train on the wye at Schellville, so that it can shove the six empty cars to Lombard.

Presently there is no ideal means of interchanging cars between the NWP and California Northern near Lombard. Interchange is conducted on the NWP mainline approximately one mile east of Brazos (at the point where ownership of the line changes) and there is no siding or yard for Balfour Beatty to run around its train for the return to Schellville. The contractor must shove all outbound cars for nine miles between Schellville and Lombard.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

NCRA Announces Lombard-Windsor Reconstruction Progress

As with the June 10 gathering in Healdsburg pictured above, the North Coast Railroad Authority encourages public attendance and participation at its monthly meetings. Check the authority’s website for meeting dates and locations (these rotate between Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties), agendas and associated public documents, and minutes from past meetings (Christian Goepel photo).

At the monthly North Coast Railroad Authority meeting held in Healdsburg yesterday (June 10), NCRA Project Manager Dave Anderson reported that reconstruction of the 62 miles of Northwestern Pacific mainline infrastructure between Lombard and Windsor by contractors is on schedule.

He said that over 40,000 new ties allocated for the 25-mile Lombard-Ignacio segment would be inserted by Balfour Beatty by the end of the week. The next phase of track reconstruction involves the installation of 10,000 new ties on the 37-mile Ignacio-Windsor segment, which will eventually be shared with Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit commuter trains.

But, according to Anderson, there are other projects that must be tackled before freight service returns. Cooper Crane and Ghilotti Brothers will complete repairs to bridges at Schell Creek near Schellville and Novato Creek near Ignacio (there are two bridges over this waterway; the northern crossing at milepost 26.93 in Novato has already been repaired). In addition, Mass Electric will ready signals at three Petaluma grade crossings, State Highway 37 at Sears Point, and State Highway 121 at Schellville.

The NCRA must gain approval from the Federal Railroad Administration before designated operator John Williams and the Northwestern Pacific can commence operations this fall.

“They were very pleased with what they saw,” Anderson said of the recent response from FRA inspectors. “We’ve appropriately addressed issues in Emergency Order No. 21.”

Issued by the FRA, the order took effect on November 27, 1998, in response to public safety and non-compliance issues on the railroad. It called for the discontinuation of service “until the NWP inspects and properly repairs its track and grade crossing signals, and it trains its employees how to properly maintain the safety of its track and grade crossing signals.”

Images: NWP History and Clouds on June 10

A weathered and moss-covered Northwestern Pacific post and crossbuck proudly protects a lightly used grade crossing in Geyserville (milepost 75.8). Scores of these markers once peppered the railroad, but their numbers have dwindled to a mere handful over the years.

The colonnade and dormer of the distinctive Ukiah (milepost 114.0) depot bask in the final moments of late afternoon sun. Presently vacant and fenced off, this brick structure may be sold by the North Coast Railroad Authority and restored for other purposes in the future.

This station has been void of regularly scheduled NWP passenger trains since the last San Rafael-Eureka Redwood called on November 8, 1958.

Historically speaking, the Northwestern Pacific mainline as it is known today was created by cobbling together several predecessor railroads over a period of years. The classic board-and-batten, wood frame depot at Hopland (milepost 100.1) is a product of that era. It was built in response to the Cloverdale & Ukiah Rail Road's 1889 arrival in the region.

But the C&U would be acquired by another predecessor company - the San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad - before a single revenue train ran over the scenic 28.5-mile route between its namesake cities. Ultimately, the SF&NP was consolidated with the NWP in 1907.

Today, the depot at 25 Center Street is occupied by the Hopland Fire Department and Public Utility District.

Note: Historical data in this post was gleaned from Fred Stindt's two-volume treatment of Northwestern Pacific history and NWP company documents.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Work Train Operations Reach Petaluma

Today (June 3), Balfour Beatty operated the work train locomotive from Schellville to Petaluma to gather 11 hoppers in the yard there to be used in ballasting the Northwestern Pacific mainline between Lombard and Ignacio. Due to mechanical difficulties, the crew was unable to retreive the cars and returned light engine to Schellville. This train movement was the first through Novato and Petaluma since September 2001.

In the above photograph taken at 10:05 a.m., Willamette Valley No. 2502 crossed the century old Haystack through swing truss bridge over Petaluma Creek at milepost 37.16. This structure is the oldest of the four movable bridges - Brazos, Wingo, Black Point, and Haystack - on the NWP mainline in the North Bay.

Returning to Schellville, No. 2502 and crew pass the NWP depot at Grant Avenue in downtown Novato. The golden flanks of Mt. Burdell are visible in the background.

In anticipation of work trains to Petaluma and beyond, rail was reinstalled on the fully rehabilitated wood-pile bridge over Novato Creek at milepost 26.93 in recent days.