FOER Supports Proposed Railbanking of NCRA’s Line from Willits North

A future stretch of the Great Redwood Trail near Dyerville.

The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) has submitted reports to the Surface Transportation Board in support of its proposed railbanking of the Northwestern Pacific Rail line from Willits north to Eureka. This includes branches of the line in Samoa, Korblex, Carlotta, and Blue Lake. Friends of the Eel River submitted comments to the Surface Transportation Board’s Office of Environmental Analysis stating our support for their proposal.

We strongly support inclusion of the entire 175 miles of rail line from Willits north, as well as the additional branches in Samoa, Korblex, Carlotta, and Blue Lake. Our comments emphasize how unsuitable the Eel River Canyon is for rail development, and how as an isolated stretch of rail along nearly a hundred miles of a remote and wild river, this right of way presents an outstanding opportunity for railbanking.

The railbanking proposal has benefits as a transportation system. In many areas, including the Carlotta and Korblex branches, as well as the reaches of the NCRA line around Fortuna and up the Eel River to the confluence of the mainstem and the South Fork Eel, railbanking and trail use will provide a safe way to use sustainable modes of transportation like bicycles without risking riding on incredibly dangerous roads like Highways 36, 101, and 299.

California Legislature’s Assessment of the North Coast Railroad Authority and Viability of a Great Redwood Trail report published in December 2020 provides a high-end estimate of the cost of trail building. However, the vast majority of the right of way through the Eel River Canyon is suitable for trail use with only minor work. Demand for high quality multi-use trails has increased dramatically over the past year, and we do not anticipate that demand diminishing. Establishing the Great Redwood Trail as a world-class trail connected to the California Coastal Trail will be a boon to the regional tourism economy.

Finally, we also specify that the NCRA and its successor agency will need to consult with federal wildlife agencies, specifically US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service in compliance with the Endangered Species Act to ensure that there will be no adverse impacts from proposed railbanking to species listed under the Act. Round Valley Indian Tribes should also be consulted about potential impacts to biological or cultural resources important to the Tribes.

Click here to read our comments in full.